- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

We begin with the last play of the 1995 AFC title game, the closest the Indianapolis Colts have ever come to the Super Bowl. One of their receivers, Aaron Bailey, is lying on his back in the end zone, and a Hail Mary pass has just landed on his stomach after being deflected by a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Will Bailey latch onto the ball — and punch Indy’s ticket to Roman Numeral Land — or will it roll off before he can react?

Woody Allen’s recent movie, “Match Point,” starts something like this. In a voiceover, the main character, a tennis player, says, “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.”

In Bailey’s case, of course, the ball wound up on the ground … and Indianapolis lost, 20-16. So it has gone for the Colts for 23 seasons, ever since they packed up the moving vans and sneaked out of Baltimore, where they had won four NFL championships. Let’s face it, the Colts are cursed — the horseshoes on their helmets notwithstanding. The evidence is piled so high and deep now that there’s simply no denying it.

Bob Irsay, their late owner, didn’t trade Babe Ruth for a bag of beans, but he did swap one of the great football towns in America for a city synonymous with hoops and hubcaps. Misjudgments of that magnitude are usually punished severely by the sports gods. The Red Sox had to wait 86 years to win another World Series, and the Colts may be facing a similarly gruesome fate.

But look on the bright side, Hoosier folk: Only 63 more years to go.

Does anyone doubt that the Colts are damned? If so, let me try to convince you. After all, that pass that tumbled off Aaron Bailey’s tummy is hardly Indy’s only bad break over the years. In fact, it wasn’t even the only bad break that day. A few minutes earlier, linebacker Quentin Coryatt dropped an interception that would have clinched the game for Indianapolis, and back in the first half, the Steelers’ Kordell Stewart stepped out of bounds before catching a touchdown pass — but the officials didn’t notice.

Heck, the worst break of all was having to play Pittsburgh in the first place — in Pittsburgh, naturally. Not only are the Colts 0-5 against the Steelers in the playoffs, they were 0-11 at Three Rivers Stadium. But these things happen when you’re cursed.

And Indy most assuredly is. The Colts had the No. 1 pick, you may recall, in the 1990 draft. They took Jeff George. (No further elaboration required.) Two years later, they had the No. 1 pick again. They took Steve Emtman. (See previous note.) They finally got it right in 1998, when they selected Peyton Manning first overall — or did they? Manning has piled up some impressive statistics, in some cases record-breaking statistics, but he has never led Indy to the Super Bowl. On the other hand, Matt Hasselbeck, who was chosen in the sixth round of the same draft, has led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

Need more proof? OK, how about the Eric Dickerson trade in 1987? That didn’t exactly turn out as planned, did it? With the Rams, Dickerson was the game’s premier runner, averaging 1,742 yards in his first four seasons; with Indianapolis, though, he averaged a mere 1,080 yards a year. And just think: All the Colts gave up for him were two first-rounders, a second-rounder and the rights to linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who went on to play in five Pro Bowls and four Super Bowls with the Bills.

Hardly a year goes by that we aren’t reminded of the pox that has been put on Indianapolis’ dome. In the 1999 playoffs, for example, the Colts ran into a club that was as lucky as they are star-crossed — Tennessee, which had just pulled off the “Music City Miracle” at the expense of Buffalo. The Titans edged Indy thanks to Eddie George’s 68-yard touchdown run, which turned out to be (what else?) the longest TD of his NFL career.

Then there was the 2003 AFC Championship game at New England. Honestly, what chance does an “indoor” team have of beating the Patriots in the snow? Last year, though, was the topper — a lengthy flirtation with 16-0, the gaining of the home field advantage (a first for Indianapolis), and then … yet another rendezvous with defeat at the hands of the Steelers.

In the final seconds, the Colts’ Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, trotted out to try to send the game into overtime. This was like the Red Sox sending in Roger Clemens to try to finish off the Mets in the 1986 World Series. But whereas Clemens fell victim to his bullpen — and, ultimately, Bill Buckner — Vanderjagt fell victim only to himself, badly botching a 46-yarder.

In the offseason, Indy sought to change its fortunes by dumping Vanderjagt and bringing in Patriots good-luck charm Adam Vinatieri. A 5-0 start has followed, but Vinatieri has missed the last three games with a groin injury. Maybe the Colts should sign David Ortiz, the Red Sox curse buster. Big Papi would probably give their beleaguered run defense a boost, being a designated hitter and all.

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