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Infante bids adieu to the Indianapolis Colts 1996 season

December 30, 1996

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Lindy Infante, who shows his optimism by crediting the Indianapolis Colts’ meandering season for his weight control, says look at it this way: the Colts won’t be plagued by second-guessing their season’s final moment.

While the 1995 Colts lost the AFC championship on a last-second desperation pass, this year’s edition went home stunned losers in a rout.

``Last season it was a Hail Mary pass,″ Infante said Monday, the day after his first season as Colts’ head coach had ended. ``You had to sit around all off-season playing that `what if’ game. Yesterday, there was not much left to doubt.″

Not after the Pittsburgh Steelers blew past the Colts’ 14-13 halftime lead with a grind-’em-out scoring drive to open the second half en route to a 42-14 blow out.

The Colts had to scratch for their brief lead, scoring a pair of quick touchdowns off interceptions after trailing 13-0.

``Our trademark has been battling through adversity and battling back when you’re behind,″ Infante said. ``We did that for 30 minutes yesterday, and then the game got away from us in the third quarter, for whatever reason.″

While a first-round playoff loss stings, it only gets worse the farther a team advances toward the Super Bowl and the NFL championship. Infante learned that lesson from a Super Bowl appearance with the 1981 Cincinnati Bengals, where he coached quarterbacks and receivers.

``I’ve been on a Super Bowl team that lost, and it’s the sickest feeling I can ever remember having. Going that far and then not getting in,″ he said.

``Yesterday it was a sick feeling getting knocked out in the first round.″

And there’s little consolation.

``It’s not like college football,″ said Infante, who coached at Florida, Memphis State and Tulane. ``In college football, you can play an eight-win season, a nine-win season, and go to a bowl game. Win or lose the bowl game, you feel like you’ve had a fine year, and it’s a high note for you.″

The Colts’ season started with promise after the team barely missed a Super Bowl appearance last January.

The Colts shrugged off their first loss of the season _ to Buffalo _ after winning their first four games. But soon Indianapolis found itself mired in a 6-6 record and struggling again to win a wildcard spot.

They did, with a 9-7 record, despite losing the final game of the regular season to Cincinnati.

Along the way the Colts were hobbled by injuries. Marshall Faulk, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, was limited to 587 yards during the regular season because of a dislocated toe.

Linebackers Trev Alberts and Quentin Coryatt went down with injuries. A bad knee benched defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. And there were others.

``We have to think we’re better with them,″ Infante said. ``You don’t want to lose your starters, your marquee players and stars.″

After a brief January vacation, the coaching staff goes back to work, planning for 1997. ``We’ll go about analyzing ourselves as if we had lost by one point,″ he said.

And for the time being, at least, Infante the optimist continues in the grueling dual roles of head coach and offensive coordinator.

``I didn’t have to worry about gaining weight. I had to tighten my belt up from week to week.″

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