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Colts plunge to bottom of NFL, still looking for answers

November 13, 1997

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ From Super Bowl contender to NFL patsy in less than two years, the Indianapolis Colts are piling up loss after loss, still wondering what went wrong.

The Colts haven’t won a game since last Dec. 15, and prospects appear bleak as the 1997 season heads toward the finish, starting with a game Sunday against defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay.

``I have been opinionated my whole life and successful my whole life and I don’t have the answers,″ director of football operations Bill Tobin said. ``Whether it’s chemistry, the breaks just not going our way, or the fact we’re not making plays ... it’s all going bad.

``There is nothing more distasteful than losing week after week.″

The 0-10 start is the Colts’ worst since they lost their first 13 games in 1986. No NFL team has ever gone 0-16 for the season, but four of the Colts’ remaining six games are on the road, and the six teams have a combined 38-22 record.

The timing couldn’t be worse, as owner Jim Irsay negotiates with the city for a better lease in the RCA Dome.

Irsay declined to discuss the team’s plight this week, indicating he would have no comment until the end of the season. He has never threatened to move the franchise, although the $20 million in additional revenue the Colts are seeking from the city is far more than the $8 million the city has said it’s willing to provide. The city earns about $8 million from concessions and various other sources because of the Colts’ presence in Indianapolis.

``The losing streak really doesn’t enter into the negotiations,″ Mayor Stephen Goldsmith said. ``It is unfortunate, but we’re going to make a deal which makes sense for the city.

``The Colts are a valuable asset to the community, but we’re not going to spend tax dollars to protect that asset.″

Which might make it even more critical for the Colts to improve the value of that asset with a few victories on the field. There has been no great public grumbling about the Colts this season, less than two years after they came within a desperation pass completion of the Super Bowl, but there’s continued speculation about possible changes in management and the coaching staff.

``I’m still a fan. I’m from Indianapolis and I believe in sponsoring Indianapolis in all sports,″ said Petey Wheatstraw, who operates a hot dog stand outside the RCA Dome on Sundays.

Still, he wishes Irsay would soft-pedal his request for money from the city.

``They need to show us something. It’s just like any other job. You want a raise? Then show us what you can do.″

LeJuan Holmes, who recently moved to Indianapolis from Gary, Ind., a Chicago Bears stronghold, said the city should ``roll over and give them what they want, because they’ll probably move.″

But Holmes didn’t blame coach Lindy Infante for the slump.

``He doesn’t go out on the field and play,″ Holmes said.

Steve Ross, the manager at Field of Dreams at the nearby Circle Centre Mall, which gets a lot of business before and after Colts games, added, ``I don’t know if the city has anything to request of Irsay. It seems to me professional sports is an iffy business.″

``I’m not going to write them off completely,″ Ross said, ``but an appropriate sequence of events happened two years ago when they went to the AFC title game.″

Only three of the current coaches and six of the players were with the Colts before Tobin was hired in January 1994. Contract demands and the salary cap have complicated his job. Among players who have departed are cornerbacks Ray Buchanan and Eugene Daniel, defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, linebacker Jeff Herrod, center Kirk Lowdermilk and offensive tackle Will Wolford.

Ted Marchibroda, who took the Colts to the AFC championship game in 1995, initially was offered only a one-year contract extension as coach and then was let go when he declined. Marchibroda now is coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Linebacker Stephen Grant, a rookie in Marchibroda’s first year as coach in 1992, remembers the 4-12 season in 1993. This year’s team is better than that, despite its record, which makes the situation even more frustrating, Grant said.

``Back then we realized why we were 4-12. Now we have the talent, we’ve got a good coaching staff,″ he said. ``Somebody said we’re snakebitten, and basically that’s what we are. I’ve stopped a long time ago trying to figure out why this is happening. You can’t pinpoint one reason. I’ve come to the point where I’m just looking for positive things.″

Infante, hired in 1995 as offensive coordinator and elevated to coach after Marchibroda left, knows the speculation will continue.

``I realize this is a bottom line business, and the bottom line is we are not winning,″ he said. ``But I know that I’m doing everything possible and working as hard as I can to turn this thing around. So are my assistants, and the players. We’re playing the best players we can, and using the best plays we can. Sometimes they just don’t work. ... I don’t think I’ve gotten any dumber this year.″

As the season has gone on, though, the players’ frustration has mounted. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who earned the nickname ``Captain Comeback″ and was the NFL’s top-rated quarterback two years ago, has struggled behind a young, vulnerable offensive line. He has thrown for only three touchdowns and has been sacked 28 times for losses of 171 yards.

He injured his ankle three weeks ago. The next week, he broke a bone in his hand during an off-field scuffle with NBC sportscaster and former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who had called Harbaugh a ``baby″ who exaggerated his injuries.

Paul Justin, who replaced Harbaugh as starter, dislocated a finger the next game, and third-stringer Kelly Holcomb broke a bone in his wrist last week.

Marshall Faulk, who had his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season in last week’s 28-13 loss to Cincinnati, has had little room to run.

``You don’t want to ask what else will go wrong,″ Faulk said. ``There are a lot of bad things going on out there. There are a lot of freak things going on, but when you don’t put yourself in good position, bad things happen to you.″

Because of the departed veterans, the Colts are starting two rookies on the offensive line, first-round pick Tarik Glenn at right guard and second-round pick Adam Meadows at left tackle. Both of them have played like rookies.

``It’s really hard to talk about the positives, because we lost again and we’re still 0-10,″ Meadows said. ``We did a ton of bad things (against Cincinnati) and we must go back to the drawing board to end this thing.″

End Advance