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Comeback Sparks Manning Memories

Archie watched with amazement as son Peyton led Colts back from 21-point deficit against Buccaneers.

October 08, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — Archie Manning got the condolence call early Tuesday morning, from a family friend.

"Poor Peyton," the woman said. "He was trying so hard, and to lose like that ... "

Manning didn't have the heart to tell her she turned off the television too early Monday night, missing one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, whose team trailed Tampa Bay by 21 points with 5 minutes 9 seconds to play, directed four scoring drives to stun the defending Super Bowl champions in overtime, 38-35.

If the outcome seemed vaguely familiar to Archie, it's because he was on the losing end of the largest regular-season comeback in NFL history -- a game with several parallels to Monday's thriller.

Check out this symmetry: Archie was New Orleans' quarterback on Dec. 7, 1980, when the 0-13 Saints had a 35-7 halftime lead at San Francisco before giving up 14 points in the third quarter, 14 in the fourth, and losing in overtime -- also 38-35.

""It was awful," the elder Manning recalled in a telephone interview from his home in New Orleans. "We got out there too quick with a lead, and sometimes you just can't do that."

Tuesday, the Colts touched down in Indianapolis around 4 a.m. and Peyton slept most of the day before heading to the team's facility for treatment. He was still exhausted from the night before.

"It was overtime and a lot of guys were pretty gassed out there," he said in a phone interview. "I remember a couple of linemen on that last series, when we were still going with the no-huddle, a couple of linemen were like, 'Hey, Peyton, can we please huddle?' They had to catch their breath ...

"On the last series, once we got down there around the 30, [running back] James Mungro was blowing up all over himself. He was throwing up, and I was like, 'Do not throw up on this ball and fumble.' It's one of those things that you kind of start laughing about at the end of the game once it's over."

The Buccaneers had that queasy feeling, too, after becoming only the second defending Super Bowl champion to start 0-2 at home in a non-strike season.

"I'm not going to stand up here and justify what occurred," Buccaneer Coach Jon Gruden said. "We got bombed in the ninth inning."

At his day-after news conference, Gruden was asked about the exasperation of Tampa Bay fans, thousands of whom happily streamed for the exits before the meltdown.

"I'm right there with you, Tampa Bay," he said, staring directly into the TV cameras. "I apologize. I'm sorry. I really am. I'm sick, I'm stunned, I'm disappointed, and I don't like the feeling in my stomach."

Now, Gruden has to find a way to pull together an injury-riddled team that bore little resemblance to the NFL's top-ranked defense down the stretch. The Buccaneers, who had surrendered 22 points and one offensive touchdown (on a two-yard drive) in the first three games, gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter.

"For the first time since I've been here," Gruden said, "a team was able to overcome tremendous odds in a predictable situation, convert some third downs, and be able to throw the ball and have success. Part of that is our execution, part of that is theirs, and ultimately we paid a big price."

By that point, though, a lot of Archie Manning's friends had stopped watching. One turned off the TV in the third quarter and reminded his young son -- a huge Peyton fan -- that it was past his bedtime. The boy retired to his room, then quietly got up when his father had gone to bed and watched the end of the game.

"The guy got up in the morning and his son told him what happened," Manning said with a laugh. "He thought his son was lying."

Knowing Peyton would call sometime after the game, Manning took the portable phone to bed with him. A few friends called after 1 a.m., and several others left congratulatory messages at his office. By morning, the calls were coming at a rate of 20 an hour.

Peyton passed for 151 yards in the first three quarters, then 235 more in the fourth quarter and overtime.

"In the second half, we just said, 'Let's go. Let's just go with it,' " Manning said. "If they play two-deep, I'll hit [receiver] Marvin [Harrison]. If they play one-deep, I'll work the outside. I don't care who's out there on Marvin. I really don't. But we were finally able to get some one-on-one matchups, and we had a little momentum."

The Colts are 5-0 for the first time since 1977 and Manning is off to a remarkable start that makes him a very early favorite in the most-valuable-player race. He came into the Tampa Bay game fresh off an outstanding performance at New Orleans in which he recorded an NFL-record third "perfect" game of his pro career, finishing with the highest-possible passer rating of 158.3.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are struggling to regain their equilibrium for Sunday's game at Washington. Maybe because he was burnt out on talking football, Gruden reached outside his sport to find an analogy for his team's predicament. Perhaps subconsciously, he made reference to a team Buccaneer owner Malcolm Glazer has been interested in buying.

"We need to call the Dodgers and see if we can get [Eric] Gagne, the guy with 66 saves," he said. "You go eight and one-third, you have to get the last two guys out."

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