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Good Neighbor
Austin Murphy
May 20, 1996
Jim Harbaugh has finally found an NFL home, with the Indianapolis Colts
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May 20, 1996

Good Neighbor

Jim Harbaugh has finally found an NFL home, with the Indianapolis Colts

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He started nine games for Indianapolis that fall but was benched in favor of Don Majkowski. Asked if he was given a reason for his demotion, Harbaugh smiles like a man who knows how ludicrous what he is about to say is going to sound: "[Then coach] Ted Marchibroda said, 'We don't think you got it done in the fourth quarter.' "

Under the influence of this opinion the Colts last spring traded two high draft choices to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Craig Erickson, who was handed the starting job on a platter. Erickson failed to vindicate his champion, Marchibroda. In the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, he threw three interceptions and bobbled a shotgun snap, causing a safety. He was relieved in the fourth quarter by Harbaugh, whose touchdown pass and throw for a two-point conversion with seven seconds left sent the game into overtime. The Colts eventually lost.

Continuing his custodial duties, Harbaugh mopped up for Erickson the following week, entering in the third quarter with Indianapolis trailing the New York Jets 24-3. Harbaugh's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes sent that game, too, into overtime, and his 24-yard completion to wideout Sean Dawkins set up the winning field goal. Marchibroda caved, naming Harbaugh the starter. On Oct. 8, Captain Comeback sparked another 21-point second-half rally, this time against the Miami Dolphins, whom the Colts beat 27-24, again in overtime.

"These guys had the kind of faith in Jim that the Cowboys have in Troy Aikman, that the Dolphins have in Dan Marino, that the Steelers had in Terry Bradshaw," says Colts vice president Bill Tobin, who with the Bears in 1987 was instrumental in drafting Harbaugh out of Michigan. "They get in the huddle and know something good is going to happen."

The team's faith in Captain Comeback was never so evident as during the final 90 seconds of the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the bumblebee-colored riot that was Three Rivers Stadium, the Colts trailed 20-16 with 1:30 left. They had 84 yards to go and only one timeout. When Harbaugh entered the huddle, wide receiver Floyd Turner shouted, "C'mon, Jimmy. One more time!"

On third-and-three with 1:14 left, Harbaugh hit Turner for an 18-yard gain, to the Colts' 41. In the huddle a couple more players picked up the chant. "C'mon, Jimmy. One more time!" By the time he had driven the Colts to the Steelers' 29 and killed the clock with five seconds left, everyone in the huddle was shouting, "C'mon, Jimmy. One more time!" So loud and incessant was the clamor that Captain Comeback had to tell his teammates to shut up so he could call the play.

That play was Rocket—Colt-speak for the Hail Mary, which is what Harbaugh propelled into the late afternoon air.

Punctuality is no longer possible this morning, Harbaugh's path to the "Path to Profit" seminar having been blocked, temporarily, by the state trooper. But after explaining his tardiness and warning the assembled entrepreneurs to be on the lookout for unmarked Camaros on Route 37, Harbaugh, who has been a devout Christian since experiencing a religious awakening in 1990, urges his listeners to "turn your life over to Jesus Christ"—something he apparently does every time he slides behind the wheel. Other tips: "Have goals.... Have a plan.... Work hard."

Any questions? An older gentleman, hopeful, it seems, of tripping up Harbaugh, says, "Goal-oriented as you are, where do you see yourself 10 years from now?"

"I'll be coaching," Harbaugh says. His father, Jack, is the football coach at Western Kentucky, and Jim works for the Hilltoppers as an unpaid assistant, mainly calling recruits. Jim's brother, John, is assistant head coach at Cincinnati. His sister, Joan, is married to Tom Crean, an assistant basketball coach at Michigan State. "When I really want to annoy my family," Harbaugh tells his audience, "I tell them I'd be a [full-time] coach, but right now I've got too many skills."

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