Colts exorcise Jets demons for longtime Baltimore football fans

Maybe it was the ghost of Johnny U. Or football fate, or old-fashioned talent.

Whatever the reason, thank goodness the New York J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets aren't playing in next Sunday's Super Bowl.

No slights intended to Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez or the swamps of Jersey. But had the Jets defeated the Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday's AFC championship game, the flashbacks would have haunted countless thousands.

The Jets, you see, inflicted the two most painful defeats in Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts history, and the Colts never exacted proper revenge.

Until last Sunday, when Peyton Manning's precision and perfection prevailed.

Now I know that connecting the Colts' Baltimore incarnation to the Indianapolis years is sacrilege to some. The team's cowardly 1984 move caused many Baltimore loyalists to disown the Colts and hope fervently for their weekly demise.

But many of us forever scarred by Jan. 12, 1969, cringed at the thought of the Jets again beating the Colts in the playoffs.

It was Super Bowl III, and the Green Bay Packers of the establishment National Football League had punked the American Football League's Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in the first two editions.

With Earl Morrall replacing the injured John Unitas at quarterback, the Colts had squashed opponents during a 13-1 regular season. The upstart Jets had only the AFL's third-best regular-season record at 11-3.

New York's 16-7 conquest, fueled by Joe Namath's brashness and Baltimore's blunders, left at least one 9-year-old inconsolable. Not to mention an entire city long burdened with Big Apple envy.

Later that winter, the New York Knicks of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier swept the top-seeded Baltimore Bullets of Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld out of the NBA playoffs. Come fall, New York's Miracle Mets of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman dusted the Baltimore Orioles of Brooks and Frank Robinson in the World Series.

Mencken and Poe, Baltimore's most famous writers, couldn't have conjured such torture.

But Baltimore was, and is, a football town. Nothing hurt like Super Bowl III.

Yes, Unitas quarterbacked the Colts to victory in Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys. And yes, the Jets were a lowly 4-10 that season. Didn't matter.

To make matters worse, when the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, league honchos moved the Colts to the AFC East, where their twice-a-season rivals included the Jets. In their first two AFC seasons, the Colts were 4-0 against the Jets. Didn't matter.

The regular season paled to the Super Bowl.

In 1984, under cover of a snowy March evening, owner Robert Irsay ordered Mayflower moving vans to depart the team's suburban Baltimore HQ for Indianapolis. Suffice to say, Baltimore held a grudge like the Gambino family.

The Colts and Jets continued to share a division and play twice annually until realignment in 2002. But rarely, if ever, were their encounters crucial.

Until a January 2003 wild-card playoff game in Jersey. It was Manning's fifth NFL season, and he was 0-2 in the playoffs, leading some to carp that, like his college days at Tennessee, big-stage defeats would tarnish his professional legacy.

The game was gruesome. The Jets picked Manning twice and pressured him into misfiring on 17-of-31 passes en route to a 41-0 flogging, the most lopsided wild-card game ever.

A year later, Manning got off the playoff schneid, and three years after that, in February 2007, he led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears.

But rarely has Manning been better than a week ago against the Jets. Shredding the league's top-ranked total and passing defense, he completed 26-of-39 attempts for 377 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Once down 17-6, Indianapolis won 30-17. Finally, the Jets were vanquished when it mattered, denied their first Super Bowl appearance since '69.

No question, punishment would have been sweeter if meted out by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, on Friday an equally twisted Baltimore lad e-mailed photos of a gentleman wearing a Ravens jersey posing in front of Irsay's grave.

Irsay died in 1997, a blessed decade before the franchise he purchased in 1972 and quickly ruined won the Super Bowl. Now that the Colts have exorcised their Jets demons, Baltimore football lifers can resume pining for their failure.

Geaux Saints.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

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