Marvin Harrison concludes his Colts career with 38 million catches, 96,000 touchdowns, and one third of an end-zone dance.
He was the NFL anti-hero, and Indiana loved him for it.
After hearing the news of his departure, I was mildly surprised, but not all-together heartbroken for our Colts. He has been involved in some shady dealings as of late, contrary to his iron man image that lasted a decade. And he and Peyton have been losing their deadly telepathy since 2006, amid the muck of bursa sacs and overthrown post-patterns.
So even though I'm glad to see him leave before he gets benched, comes to blows with Peyton, or fumbles away any more playoff games, Indianapolis will miss him, and he is one of the most important athletes in the city's history. In the NFL, and at his position in particular, most athletes would have responded to such consistent disappointment in a small-market city by publicly pissing themselves and demanding a trade or forty billion dollars. But he is the Colts version of Reggie Miller; a landlocked winner that never succumbed to the albatross of coastal pseudo-stardom.
There are five Marvin Moments that will live forever in Indianapolis sports lore, and none of them involve sharpie markers, middle fingers, or game-winning Hail Mary catches. Because we already know that Harrison is professional, acrobatic, and uncannily amazing in his ability to just get open. Those things are understood, and go without saying in any bar-talk reminiscing of his glory days.
But here is what we'll really remember; the validating anecdotes of his distinction as an Indiana legend.
1. 2003 AFC Divisional Playoffs: Harrison catches a routine slant route, falling to the ground as he cradles the catch. As Denver's delinquent DB Deltha O'Neal helplessly cries at the secondary for their blown coverage, Marvin nonchalantly hops up and takes off for a leisurely stroll into the end zone. My brother and I nearly pissed our pants, as we laughed and cheered hysterically from the upper deck. I was so elated I even high-fived the grizzled and portly drunkard next to me, who had accused me six minutes earlier of taking his seat. I can still smell the booze and sweaty flannel. It was the only NFL playoff game I ever got to go to, and the Colts won something like 640-3. Peyton dropped bomb after bomb in the first half, then let Sorgi come out onto the track with a pistol for a mercy-killing.
2. 2003 Monday Night Football, Colts vs. Bucs: It was Dungy's first game against his former team, and in the week leading up, Keyshawn Johnson arrogantly jawed that Harrison was overrated, and inferior to himself as a receiver. The first half was miserable and embarrassing, and Keyshawn continued his mouthy blabbering into the locker room. But in the second half, Marvin came out and cut the Bucs secondary to ribbons, en route to the biggest NFL comeback of all time. The Colts eventually won in overtime on a controversial Vanderjerk field goal, as Keyshawn and Warren Sapp had a tearful make-out session. This was the first time an NFL ever came back after being down by 21 points with less than four minutes.
3. 2004 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Colts are hosting Denver again, and again the Broncos secondary has to start running their mouths in the week leading up. Professional meathead John Lynch called the Colts receiving corps "soft," said they were afraid to take hits or to block - that they are a "finesse" team. Big words from a team that gave up 5 touchdowns in the first half to Manning, one year prior. But 2004 was a new year for the Broncos.
They only gave up four. The most satisfying of which came in the first quarter, as Reggie Wayne streaked past the entire defense, and Lynch, sucking wind and trotting after him like a fat kid chasing an Ice Cream truck….was crushed by the "soft" Marvin Harrison, who threw his body at him horizontal, while Reggie Lindy-Hopped his way into the end-zone.
4. 2005 Monday Night Football, Colts vs. Rams: Harrison and Manning broke the record for most career TD's by a QB-WR combo. As they trotted off the field, they played hot potato with the football, each of them gracefully denying credit for the feat.
5. 2006 Sunday Night Football, Colts vs. Patriots: I remember seeing this play, and thinking that there is no way in hell it's going to stand-up to review. Harrison ran a post route on a game-swinging play, and the pass was thrown behind him. With Ellis Hobbs trying to pull his right arm off, he flipped the ball up by his fingernail, spun, secured the ball, and dragged his tippy toes in bounds. It is the greatest catch I've ever seen. Hobbs stared blankly for a moment in disbelief, then made a half-hearted plea to the official. Following the equally perplexed official's confirmation of the TD, Harrison stood up and fired a victory spike right into the face of a sour Patriot. Hyperbole aside, probably the best moment of my entire life.
It was during the absolute worst of the Colts' annual ass-kicking they received at the hands of the Patriots. But on that night in Foxboro, the tone of Indianapolis football changed, and the Colts went on to win the Superbowl that same season.
Harrison was a symbolic turning point for Colts football. Fans complain about the bitter disappointment we've come to fear each January, and some years - especially recently - he has been deserving of his fair share in the weight of that heartache. But it was because of him and Peyton, neither of whom would have been half as good without the other, that we were in the playoffs to begin with. Now spoiled by annual AFC dominance, Hoosiers forget that in the 90's we were a Detroit Lions doppelganger.
Harrison played for three head coaches and was on the Colts for 12 years; almost exactly half the time the Colts have been a franchise, and for all that time, as #88 has gone, so have gone the Colts; our better days-- our escape from Jeff George and Anthony Johnson and 1-15-- began with him. Indianapolis has always had a penchant for second-half teams. And in that, even with his tired legs of 2008, we were better with him than we are without him.
(But we might be a little better without his $13 million against the cap).