If Jim Harbaugh keeps this up, the boss is going to have to
learn how to pronounce his name.
Until now, Indianapolis Colt owner Robert Irsay has referred to
his starting quarterback as Harbro, a verbal mangling laughed
off by Harbaugh, the NFL's most self-deprecating player. Last
Thursday, for example, Harbaugh sat on a stool in front of his
locker, running himself down. "I'm not a great quarterback," he
said, accurately. "Some would say I'm not even that good. I kind
of have an ugly style, but it kind of works for me."
Three days later, when substance mattered more than style, there
was Harbaugh, working the soft defense of the Miami Dolphins
like a baker kneading dough. Harbaugh, who may be best known for
having gotten chewed out on television by coach Mike Ditka when
he was the Chicago Bears' signal-caller, threw three second-half
touchdowns to rally the Colts from a 24-3 deficit at
intermission to a 27-24 overtime victory over the flabbergasted
fish at Joe Robbie Stadium. "Championship teams, like the
49ers--they don't let this happen," said an extremely peeved
Miami nosetackle Chuck Klingbeil afterward. "You never want to
lose to anybody, but the Indianapolis Colts? Come on."
The ridicule was undeserved. Indy's third comeback win of the
season demonstrated that these Colts, 3-2 after knocking off the
NFL's last undefeated team, are not to be confused with the
sad-sack squads that stunk up Indianapolis in the decade
following the franchise's nocturnal retreat from Baltimore in
1984. "Not long ago, when things went wrong for this team, the
players packed it in," says Bill Tobin, Indianapolis's director
of football operations. "These guys don't pack it in."
Neither do the Dolphins, but in suffering their worst collapse
since 1980, they demonstrated that they need fine-tuning if they
want to be one of this season's elite teams. Loaded though it is
on both sides of the ball, Miami lacks a killer instinct.
Sunday's humiliation bore striking similarities to the Dolphins'
22-21 playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers last January, when
Miami blew a 21-6 lead and went down in flames when Pete
Stoyanovich missed a 48-yard field goal. On Sunday, Stoyanovich
missed twice, including a potential game-winning 49-yarder.
"Disgusting," said disappointed Miami quarterback Dan Marino, on
whose parade the Colts rained. A second-quarter dump pass to
fullback Keith Byars marked Marino's NFL-record 3,687th
completion. Play stopped, the crowd stood, and the strains of
the 1812 Overture filled Joe Robbie. The jacked-up Dolphins
capped that drive with a touchdown, added a field goal and took
a three-touchdown lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Little did Miami know that it would score no more and that
Marino would undergo arthroscopic surgery the next day to repair
loose cartilage in his right knee. He could be out two to four
weeks, meaning the Dolphins may have to take on the New Orleans
Saints, the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills and the Chargers
with backup Bernie Kosar calling the shots.
Kosar should hope that he'll be as successful as the
much-maligned Harbaugh. "This quarterback hasn't beaten anybody
all year, and we let him beat us," spat Miami defensive end Jeff
Cross, obviously unimpressed by Harbaugh. For the record,
Harbaugh has engineered comebacks in each of the Colts' three
wins since replacing ineffective starter Craig Erickson in Week
2. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and takes a 107.2
quarterback rating, best in the league, into Sunday's game
against the 49ers. Harbaugh also won three of the eight games he
started last season but was benched in favor of Don Majkowski,
now with the Detroit Lions. Compounding the insult to Harbaugh,
the Colts traded their first pick in the 1996 draft and a
conditional fourth-rounder in 1996 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
for Erickson, who was handed the starting job. But Erickson
played poorly in his two starts, and Harbaugh wrested the job
The old book on Harbaugh: "When I coached against him, one of
the things we felt he would do, when pressured, was pull the
ball down and run before the pattern had time to develop," says
Colts' offensive coordinator and former Green Bay Packer head
coach Lindy Infante.
The new book on Harbaugh: "He'll scramble, but he keeps looking
upfield while scrambling," Infante says. "He finally understands
that quarterbacks in this league are not here to run."
The guy who is on this planet to run, Marshall Faulk, had 26
rushing yards at the half Sunday and finished with 42. "I'd say
Miami was feeling pretty good," said Harbaugh. "Up 24-3, they'd
stopped Marshall, now they were going to make us beat them with
the pass. You know--make Harbaugh beat you, and who's he?... It's
a pretty good strategy."
Except that Harbaugh found wide receiver Floyd Turner on
three-yard and 47-yard scoring passes and forced overtime with a
21-yarder to second-year wide receiver Aaron Bailey. In overtime
Harbaugh turned in a terrific Marino impersonation, hooking up
with three different receivers for five straight completions and
48 yards. A 27-yard field goal by kicker Cary Blanchard, who had
been signed five days earlier, finished off Miami and brought
down a chorus of boos upon the losers.
"An embarrassment," said Don Shula.
"A disgrace," said linebacker Bryan Cox.
Upon leaving the locker room, Harbaugh had a question: "What do
you think Ditka will have to say about that?"
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The Dolphins didn't think much of Harbaugh, even after he outfoxed Cox and led Indy to a 27-24 win. [Bryan Cox running toward Jim Harbaugh]