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.