THE SLIPPER FITS THE CINDERELLA COLTS UPSET THE CHIEFS TO EARN AN INVITATION TO THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

January 15, 1996

Indianapolis Colt vice president Bill Tobin ushered a visitor
into a room adjacent to his office last week. "Look at this," he
said, pointing to a four-foot-high chart on the far wall. "This
is what this National Football League thinks of us." The chart
was headlined 1995 NATIONAL EXPOSURE, and it listed each NFL
team's 1994 record and its national-TV game schedule for 1995,
including preseason appearances.

The Colts, 8-8 a year ago, had one nationally televised game
this season (Dec. 23 against the New England Patriots). The 7-9
Denver Broncos had six, the 7-9 Buffalo Bills six, the 8-8
Arizona Cardinals five. "Nobody wants us but us," said the
jut-jawed Tobin, who rails at slights such as this one but
hasn't let them get in the way of building his
little-engine-that-could team.

That team reached the NFL's Final Four on Sunday with an ugly
but stunning 10-7 defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs, and one of
the happiest guys in a Colt locker room filled with people
saying, "I told you so," was Tobin. "We haven't played a bad
football game all year," he said. "And games like this--hard,
physical, not dirty, not Raider-style--are what made this league
what it is today. It doesn't have to be 41-37 to be a great game."

The Indy defense, prepared brilliantly by Tobin's brother,
Vince, forced four Chief turnovers, a season high by Kansas
City. The Colt running game, led by unlikely hero Lamont Warren,
produced 147 yards and controlled the clock, which is rarely
done against K.C. Indianapolis quarterback Jim Harbaugh? Well,
he's simply one of the best stories in football this year.

The Chiefs had been an equally good tale until they ruined the
ending on Sunday. They had amassed the league's best record
(13-3) by winning the turnover war and by playing stifling
defense. Then quarterback Steve Bono threw three second-half
interceptions, and Kansas City's sturdy defense gave up the only
long touchdown drive that mattered this year. The fact that Lin
Elliott of K.C. missed three field goal attempts certainly
played a critical role in the loss. "Way to screw up a great
opportunity!" one incensed Chief said to his teammates while
walking off the field.

The loss will surely cause a new round of bashing of Kansas City
coach Marty Schottenheimer, though he didn't throw Bono's
knucklers or misdirect Elliott's kicks. This is Schottenheimer's
11th full season as a head coach, the first four of which he
spent running the Cleveland Browns. In 10 of those seasons he
has advanced to the playoffs, a remarkable achievement. But his
record in the playoffs is now 5-9. "People ask me if it bothers
me," he said before the game. "It bothers me we haven't won a
world championship. But this talk about me doesn't bother me."

Schottenheimer was reminded that pro football is a cold,
bottom-line business with fickle fans who pass judgment quickly
and harshly. "So be it," he said, and the shrug could be heard
in his voice. "I think people will look at me in 10 years and
say, 'The guy was a pretty good football coach.'"

This week the world will be talking about Harbaugh and the
no-name Colts. Warren (20 carries, 76 yards) subbed capably for
Marshall Faulk, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left
knee on Jan. 5 but may return for the AFC Championship Game at
Pittsburgh on Sunday. Faulk should take his time. The Colts have
rushed for 309 yards in two games since he reaggravated a knee
cartilage injury on the first carry of the wild-card victory in
San Diego.

Good story, this Warren. He entered the 1994 NFL draft rather
than return for his senior year at Colorado to back up Rashaan
Salaam, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Colts
took a sixth-round flier on him. "I know it sounds silly,"
Warren says, "but I thought I'd have a better chance to play in
the NFL than to play at Colorado."

Harbaugh didn't think he would be playing much of anything but
clipboard-holder this year after coach Ted Marchibroda picked
former Tampa Bay Buc quarterback Craig Erickson to start for the
Colts in the off-season. Tobin, who wanted an open competition
for the job, told Marchibroda, "I hope you're right, because
your job's riding on it." In September, two mediocre starts into
his Indianapolis career, Erickson was out--and Harbaugh was in.
The rest is serendipitous history. Harbaugh, who edged Green Bay
Packer quarterback Brett Favre to win the NFL's passing
championship, is about as unlikely a hero as the league has ever
produced. Dumped by the Chicago Bears in early 1994 and unwanted
by most teams even as a backup, he landed with the Colts because
the man who drafted him in Chicago, Bill Tobin, thought he was
still a mobile and efficient player. What followed his insertion
into the lineup as a starter this fall was a 17-touchdown,
five-interception season, capped by a Week 17 victory over the
Patriots that put the Colts in the playoffs for the first time
since the 1987 season.

Harbaugh is not the only surprise in Indy. Two years ago the
Colts were last in the NFL in team defense. Then Tobin brought
in brother Vince, who had last worked in the league in 1992, as
Mike Ditka's defensive coordinator with the Bears. Vince has
built the league's fifth-stingiest scoring defense. On Sunday,
Indianapolis was helped by Kansas City's abandonment of the run.
"They put the ball in Bono's hands," said Colt defensive end
Tony Bennett after Indianapolis's win, "and we knew coming in
that if the game came down to him throwing it, we had a great
chance."

That chance was enhanced by an 18-play, 77-yard drive that
Harbaugh engineered with howling Kansas City fans drowning out
the signals he called. "We were just winging it out there,
flying by the seat of our pants," Harbaugh said afterward.

"Forrest Gump should be as fortunate as Jim Harbaugh," says K.C.
tackle Will Wolford. "Harbaugh has been magic this year." It's
about time Harbaugh's luck turned. The week he got waived by the
Bears, he also broke up with his girlfriend and learned that his
month-old golden retriever had only a 10% chance of surviving an
intestinal disease. He said he felt as if he were living the
lyrics of a country-music song. The job, the girl and the dog
...and then came Mel Kiper.

After the Colts signed Harbaugh in April 1994, Harbaugh's
spirits improved a bit. He remembers watching the NFL draft: "We
get Marshall Faulk, and I say to the TV, 'Great pick!' And then
we trade up, and we take Trev Alberts, and I say, 'Wow! What a
great draft we're having.' Then ESPN puts on draft analyst Mel
Kiper, and he rips us and rips me. He says, 'The Colts can't win
with Jim Harbaugh. They should have taken Trent Dilfer.'"

Country-music song update: "My career's reborn in Indianapolis,"
Harbaugh says. "I rekindled with my girlfriend, and we're
getting married; we might do it at the Pro Bowl next month. And
my dog, Wrigley, made a miraculous recovery. So everything
turned out great."

Fiancee Miah Burke is even trying to turn the snuff-dipping
Harbaugh into a man of letters. She gave him a copy of Hamlet
for Christmas. "There's a line in there, 'To thine own self be
true,'" he says. "For a long time I'd watch Joe Montana on tape
and think, That's who I want to be like. I'd think I was going
to be Montana and end up in the Hall of Fame. Then I'd watch
myself on tape and realize I looked nothing like Joe. I don't
have the arm of Troy Aikman. Heck, I don't have the arm of [Colt
third-stringer] Paul Justin or the ability to read defenses the
way Craig Erickson does. I'm an ugly player. But at least now I
know what I am."

Right. It's the middle of January, and Harbaugh's one of four
quarterbacks left standing. Nothing ugly about that.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO The Colt D, which held the Chiefs to 129 yards rushing, is no longer a joke, as Marcus Allen learned. [Indianapolis Colts tackling Marcus Allen]

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