A Collapse And A Comeback
By JOEY JOHNSTON The Tampa Tribune
Published: Oct 3, 2007
TAMPA - Randy Mariman, a Tampa money-management consultant and longtime Bucs season-ticket holder, had never left a game early.
But on Oct. 6, 2003 - after Mariman and four friends savored a pregame steak dinner, then the "Monday Night Football" festivities at Raymond James Stadium - he thought differently.
The Bucs had just taken a three-touchdown lead on the Indianapolis Colts with five minutes remaining. Now their top-ranked defense was preparing to tee off on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"It was getting near midnight," Mariman said. "My buddies were all married with kids and they lived in Clearwater. They had to drop me off. I wanted to be a nice guy.
"So I turned to them and said, 'Look, you know I don't leave games early. But if you want to go, it's OK. This one is over.'"
By the time they reached the car, the Colts scored a touchdown.
While heading home on Interstate 275, they heard the Colts score again as an increasingly distraught Gene Deckerhoff described the action on radio.
Arriving at Mariman's Harbour Island condominium - with the Colts driving to force overtime - they hurried upstairs for a television.
They watched, largely in silent disbelief.
Final: Colts 38, Bucs 35 (OT).
One of the greatest comebacks - or most traumatic collapses - ever seen on a football field.
"We're sitting there, almost unable to move," Mariman said. "Nobody wanted to drive home. Everybody was mad. So my buddies called their wives - we're talking like 1:30 in the morning - and said the Bucs had lost, they were spending the night with me.
"Their wives had turned off the game and were already in bed. Some of them said, 'What are you talking about? Are you crazy? The Bucs didn't lose.'
"To say the least, that was a night none of us will ever forget."
Tale Of Two Franchises
Sunday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, the Bucs (3-1) meet the Colts (4-0) for the first time since Oct. 6, 2003, perhaps the line of demarcation for both franchises.
The Colts learned how to win.
The Bucs' aura of invincibility was shattered.
"That was not a fun night," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
For the first time in NFL history, a team had won after trailing by 21 points with under four minutes to play.
Colts coach Tony Dungy, celebrating his 48th birthday, had an unforgettable homecoming against the franchise he led from 1996 to 2001.
The Bucs, defending Super Bowl champions, slipped to 2-2. In many ways, they were never the same that season and finished 7-9.
Early on against Dungy's Colts, though, the Bucs were dominant, rolling to a 21-0 halftime lead.
"When I played against them, the Indianapolis Colts were always known as a soft football team," said former Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson, now with ESPN. "Once you punch them and get them down, especially with a defense like we had in Tampa, the Colts would be completely out."
Johnson wore a microphone for ABC-TV that night, and unabashedly ridiculed the Colts, especially Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison. Eventually, those words would haunt Johnson.
But that hardly seemed a possibility with 5:09 remaining, when Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber intercepted Manning and returned it 29 yards for a score, increasing Tampa Bay's lead to 35-14.
On the Colts sideline, Dungy faced the reality. The Colts, already facing a short week with the Carolina Panthers ahead, were fighting a lost cause. Dungy turned to offensive coordinator Tom Moore: "Let's get Peyton and the starters out of there."
"In that situation, you have to win the game," Barber said. "What happened after that is pretty unprecedented. I'm still in a fog over what happened."
Said Al Michaels, then ABC's play-by-play man on Monday Night Football: "We had all these fantastic storylines and the game was a rout. There was no way the Colts could come back. No way. I mean, we were comparing the Bucs defense, justifiably so, to the Chicago Bears of 1985. Then, about 11:35 at night, the real game began."
In New Orleans, Archie and Olivia Manning, Peyton's parents, sat glumly in their family room.
"I never turn off the games with Peyton and Eli," Archie Manning said. "I had already accepted it. It was a bad one. Let's just play out the string.
"Then slowly, this thing comes to life. It's like, 'OK. Better. Score's not so bad. Hey, wait a minute. Hey, something's happening. Oh my gosh. Are you kidding me?'
"Are you kidding me?
Insurmountable Lead Unravels
After Barber's score, Brad Pyatt returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards, immediately changing Dungy's strategy and setting up the Colts for a quick score. Bucs, 35-21.
The Colts then recovered an onside kick and six plays later Manning hit Harrison on a 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6. Bucs, 35-28.
Tampa Bay covered the next onside kick attempt, but couldn't make a first down. And by then, Harrison was having his way with reserve cornerback Tim Wansley, playing for the injured Brian Kelly.
Wansley bit on a pump fake, and Harrison beat him for 52 yards. With 35 seconds remaining in regulation, Ricky Williams scored from the 1. Tied, 35-35.
The Colts won 38-35 when Mike Vanderjagt banked in a 29-yard second-chance field goal with 3:47 remaining in overtime. Manning finished 34 of 47 for 386 yards. Harrison caught 11 passes for 176 yards and two scores.
"That night, the fat lady was definitely not singing," Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips said. "After the game, I checked my messages. Just about all of them said, 'Great game! Congratulations!'
"I got a lot of apologies the next day from all those people who had gone to bed."
John Madden, the "Monday Night Football" analyst, still calls it the most unusual night of football he has ever witnessed.
"It taught me a lesson," Madden said. "I always felt great defense would beat great offense. Maybe even the Colts felt that way - until that night.
"In my mind, that night started their team. It probably gave them the belief they could come back against the Patriots [in last season's AFC Championship Game]. On the broadcast, I remember saying, 'Tonight, we're going to watch one of the greatest defenses of all time.' Then look what happened. Unbelievable."
As for Randy Mariman, the Tampa money-management consultant who still roots for the Bucs?
For four years - whether it's the Bucs, Lightning or Devil Rays - he never has left early. And no matter what happens Sunday, he's watching until the end.
"You never know," Mariman said. "I guess that's what we learned that night. You just never know."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.