The 1995 AFC Championship Game was the championship game for the American Football Conference for the 1995 season. The game was played on January 14, 1996 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who hosted the Indianapolis Colts for the chance to play the winner of the National Football Conference in Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Arizona.
While it was considered a mismatch between an expected Super Bowl contender (Pittsburgh) and a Cinderella team (Indianapolis) in the week leading up to the game, it turned out to be very competitive, going down to the last play of the game when Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw a Hail Mary pass that was dropped in the end zone by the intended receiver, Aaron Bailey. The dropped pass gave the Steelers a 20–16 victory and sent them to Super Bowl XXX, the team's first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl XIV sixteen years earlier.
The game would mark a turning point for both franchises. For Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, it would be the first of only two times the Steelers would advance to the Super Bowl during his 15-year tenure at home, as the team would host the AFC Championship Game five times between 1994 and 2004 but would lose nearly all of them, with the 1995 game being the one exception. For the Colts, it marked an unexpected period of success in the mid-1990s for a franchise that otherwise struggled between its 1984 move to Indianapolis (as well as the team's last few years in Baltimore before that) and the team drafting Peyton Manning with the number one overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
The game has been ranked among the best Conference Championship games in the history of the National Football League by several publications, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN, AOL, and several local publications throughout the United States. NFL Films would go on to feature the game in both its ongoing NFL Films Game of the Week and NFL's Greatest Games series.
|1995 AFC Championship|
Three Rivers Stadium, the site of the game
|Date||January 14, 1996|
|Stadium||Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Favorite||Steelers by 11|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Dick Enberg, Phil Simms, and Paul Maguire|
Entering the 1995 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were expected to compete for the AFC Central title and a trip to the Super Bowl following a 12–4 regular season the year before behind its "Blitzburgh" defense that saw the team upset by the San Diego Chargers 17–13 in the 1994 AFC Championship Game. However, the team got off to a slow start, starting the 1995 season at 3–4 before ripping through the NFL on an eight-game winning streak. The team's last regular season loss was in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, 24–19 at Lambeau Field, a game that had no playoff implications since both teams had already clinched their respective playoff seedings entering the game. The Steelers' 11–5 record was good enough for the AFC Central Division championship (four games ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Oilers) and the conference's number 2 seed, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Colts were coming off an 8–8 season in 1994 that was the team's best record since 1987, when the team won the AFC East with a 9–6 record during the strike-shortened season. Aside from the 1987 season, the Colts had not appeared in the playoffs since 1977 when the team was in Baltimore. Behind veteran quarterback Jim Harbaugh, the 1995 season would change that, as several come-from-behind victories propelled the team to a 9–7 record and the number 5 seed in the AFC playoffs.
When the playoffs started, the Steelers defeated the Buffalo Bills 40–21 in the Divisional round to advance to their second consecutive AFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Colts defeated the defending AFC champion San Diego Chargers 35–20 at Jack Murphy Stadium, then pulled off the upset by defeating the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs 10–7 at Arrowhead Stadium. The upset of the Chiefs meant that the AFC Championship Game would be a home game for the Steelers instead of traveling to Kansas City for the AFC Championship Game. The upset also marked the Colts' first AFC Championship Game appearance in 24 years, since the then-Baltimore Colts lost to the Miami Dolphins 21–0 in 1971.
The Colts were the first number 5 seed to advance to a conference championship game since the 1990 playoff expansion. It would mark the first time since the 1970 merger that no team that was a member of the American Football League at any point in its history participated in the AFC Championship Game, as both the Colts and Steelers were with the "old" NFL before moving to the newly formed AFC in 1970 to even out the two conferences. (Since then, only the 2008 AFC Championship Game between the Steelers and their archrivals, the Baltimore Ravens, has the AFC title been played for between two non-AFL teams.) The game was a rematch of the Week 3 contest between the two teams from the previous season, which the Steelers won at home, 31–21. The 1995 AFC Championship Game would be the second of four consecutive seasons in which the two teams met in Pittsburgh, an uncommon sight for non-division rivals.
On the Steelers opening drive, Neil O'Donnell's first pass of the game was tipped by defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and intercepted by Jeff Herrod, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 24-yard line. But the Colts drive was halted when Ray Seals tackled running back Lamont Warren for a loss on third down and one. On the next play, Cary Blanchard hit the right upright on his 34-yard field goal, but it still bounced in and the Colts took a 3–0 lead. After each team punted, Pittsburgh's Norm Johnson kicked a field goal to even the game with under two minutes remaining in the first quarter. The field goal occurred after Kordell Stewart dropped a pass in the end zone. Replays showed Colts safety Jason Belser made contact with Stewart just before the ball arrived, but no penalty flag was thrown.
In the second quarter, a 30-yard reception by Colts receiver Sean Dawkins set up Blanchard's second field goal. But later on, Pittsburgh drove 80 yards in 17 plays, featuring three third down conversion runs by Kordell Stewart, and scored on O'Donnell's 5-yard third and goal touchdown pass to Stewart with 13 seconds left in the half, making the score 10–6. Replays showed Stewart had put half a foot out of bounds before making the catch, which would have made him an ineligible receiver, but the penalty was not called. As it was during the seven-year period when the NFL didn't implement instant replay, the play could not be challenged and reversed.
On Indianapolis' first drive of the second half, they drove 61 yards in nine plays, featuring a 29-yard completion from Jim Harbaugh to tight end Ken Dilger. Blanchard finished the drive with his third field goal to cut their deficit to 10–9. Then after forcing a three and punt, Indy drove 35 yards in nine plays to set up another field goal try, which would have put the Colts up 12–10. But this time Blanchard's 47-yard attempt sailed wide right. Taking over on their own 37, Pittsburgh mounted a drive in Colts territory where Johnson's 37-yard field goal put them back up by four points, at 13–9.
Early in the fourth quarter, a long punt return by Steelers receiver Andre Hastings gave them the ball at midfield. But all they got out of their great field position was a missed field goal. After that, Harbaugh threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Floyd Turner to take the lead, 16–13. After a Steelers punt, their defense got a big chance when Warren fumbled deep in Colts territory, but guard Joe Staysniak recovered the ball in mid-air to keep the drive going. Later on, defensive back Willie Williams tackled Warren behind the line on third down and one to force a punt, giving Pittsburgh the ball back with 3:03 left in the game.
Pittsburgh then marched 67 yards to score the winning touchdown. Running back Byron Bam Morris scored the game-winning 1-yard touchdown run with 1:34 remaining in the game to pull Pittsburgh ahead for good. The drive was aided by O'Donnell's 9-yard completion to Hastings on fourth down and 3 from the 47-yard line, as well as an earlier dropped potential interception that went in and out of the arms of linebacker Quentin Coryatt. On the next play after Hastings' fourth down conversion catch, O'Donnell completed a 37-yard pass to Ernie Mills on the Indianapolis 1-yard line, setting up Morris' 1-yard scoring run. The Colts got the ball back and advanced to the Steelers' 29 with 5 seconds left, narrowly avoiding a turnover when defensive back Chris Oldham dropped a wide open interception. On the game's final play, Harbaugh attempted a hail mary pass which he lofted high and came down into a crowd of players in the end zone, the ball momentarily was against Colts' Aaron Bailey's chest but it hit the turf before he could haul it in.
Harbaugh completed 21 of 33 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown.
The missed call on Kordell Stewart's touchdown catch in the second quarter brought some debate following the game on whether or not the league should bring back instant replay, which had been repealed in 1992. Replays at the time demonstrated that there would have been enough evidence to reverse the call and penalize Stewart for an illegal touching foul (stepping out of bounds before catching the pass). Jim Harbaugh later stated in postgame interviews that the missed call on Stewart and the missed pass interference call on Jason Belser that could have led to a Pittsburgh touchdown instead of a field goal were a "wash". Despite this game, there was no real desire by league owners to reinstate instant replay for 1996. Instant replay would eventually return for the 1999 NFL season, and has since been made a permanent addition of the NFL rules.
The game would mark the only home AFC Championship Game in Bill Cowher's 15-year tenure that the Steelers won, having advanced to the game at home in 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, and 2004. Except for the 1995 game—which the Steelers almost lost—the other home matchups would be losses. Ironically, the only time the team played for the AFC title on the road during Cowher's tenure, the 2005 matchup against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High, would be the only AFC Championship Game the Steelers won decisively during Cowher's tenure, winning 34–17. It would also be the only year in which the Steelers won the Super Bowl with Cowher as their head coach, defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL 21–10.
The game would be the last game for Ted Marchibroda in his second stint as the Colts head coach, having coached the Colts from 1975 to 1979 when the team was in Baltimore. Following the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy, the newly christened Baltimore Ravens hired Marchibroda to be their inaugural head coach. Following him to Baltimore would be ex-Colts Floyd Turner (whose number 88 in Indianapolis would be immediately picked up by Marvin Harrison, who would spend the next 13 years with the Colts) and former University of Pittsburgh standout Tony Siragusa; Siragusa would later pick up a Super Bowl ring when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV. Marchibroda would be fired after the 1998 season and returned to the Colts as a color commentator for their radio network until retiring following the Colts victory in Super Bowl XLI at the end of the 2006 NFL season, after which he became a pre-game commentator for the Colts for a time before Marchibroda's death in January 2016. A native of Franklin, Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh, Marchibroda's last game as Colts head coach actually came in his hometown, with Marchibroda having played quarterback for the Steelers in the 1950s. Coincidentally, the Steelers infamously kept Marchibroda over future Colts star Johnny Unitas one year during training camp.
The Steelers would play the Dallas Cowboys two weeks later in Super Bowl XXX, renewing the rivalry the two teams had in the 1970s, when the two teams were among the most dominant teams in the NFL. The heavily favored Cowboys would defeat the Steelers 27–17.
The Colts and Steelers would both make the playoffs in 1996, with the Steelers defeating the Colts 42–14 in the Wild Card round. The following year, the two teams met for the fourth consecutive year in Pittsburgh in Week 7, in which the Steelers defeated the struggling Colts 24–22, dropping the Colts to 0–6 en route to a 3–13 season and the team drafting Peyton Manning first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. The four consecutive losses in Pittsburgh would be part of a longer losing streak for the Colts, who after defeating the Steelers 41–7 at Pitt Stadium in 1968 lost 12 straight games against the Steelers in Pittsburgh before breaking through with a 24–20 win at Heinz Field in 2008. The Colts finished 0–11 lifetime at Three Rivers Stadium.
Jim Harbaugh, who after retiring worked his way up to being an NFL head coach himself with the San Francisco 49ers, has stated that the 1995 AFC Championship Game continues to haunt him: "Coming that close to your dream of participating in the Super Bowl, and then seeing it brush by your face in an instant, and you walk off the field and you go 'there will be other days'. And then you realize it was the only day." Harbaugh would eventually reach the Super Bowl with the 49ers, only to lose Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by his brother John Harbaugh.
There was the 1995 AFC championship game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, when the Colts trailed 20-16 in the final minutes
The 1968 Pittsburgh Steelers season was the team's 36th in the National Football League.
1968 continued the team's descent in the NFL's basement, finishing with a second league-worst 2–11–1 record (eagles 2-12) and the dismissal of head coach Bill Austin at the end of the season, leading to the eventual hiring of Chuck Noll. To this date, Austin is the last head coach to be fired by the Steelers.
The season is notable in that the Steelers had their last tied game before the NFL adopted the overtime rule in regular-season games in 1974 in Week 9 against the St. Louis Cardinals in a 28–28 stalemate; that game actually was the deciding game in the NFL Century Division that season, as the Cardinals had swept the Cleveland Browns but finished the season 9–4–1, 1/2 game behind the 10–4 Browns. Since that game, the Steelers have only had two tied games, both happening after the overtime rule took effect.
In addition, the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Colts at home, 41–7, in Week 3, as the Colts went on to play in Super Bowl III, in which they were upset by the AFL's New York Jets. After that loss, the Steelers would go another 40 years before losing to the Colts at home again, winning 12 straight (including three postseason meetings, among them the now-famous 1995 AFC Championship game as well as the 1975 Divisional Playoff Game that saw the introduction of the Terrible Towel) before losing to the now-Indianapolis Colts, 24–20, on November 10, 2008.1995 Indianapolis Colts season
The 1995 Indianapolis Colts season was the 43rd season for the team in the National Football League and 12th in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Colts finished the National Football League's 1995 season with a record of 9 wins and 7 losses, and finished tied for second in the AFC East division with the Miami Dolphins. However, the Colts finished ahead of Miami based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
The Colts' 9-7 record was good enough to get them into the playoffs for the first time since 1987. They defeated the defending conference champion San Diego Chargers in their first playoff game, then upset the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs. The Colts would fall short in the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that came down to the final play.Aaron Bailey (American football)
Aaron Bailey (born October 24, 1971) is a former professional American football player who played wide receiver for five seasons for the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League (NFL).Bailey will be best remembered for what happened in the 1995 AFC Championship game. Trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-16 with time for one last play, quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw a Hail Mary pass that went to Bailey's direction, but officials ruled that Bailey dropped the ball and the Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XXX.
Interestingly, Bailey attended the same high school as Harbaugh's brother and future Baltimore Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh.
Bailey played for the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL in 2001 and in the Arena Football League (2001–2006).History of the Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts are a professional American football team based in Indianapolis, Indiana. They play in the South Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) in the National Football League (NFL). The organization began play in 1953 as the Baltimore Colts with the team located in Baltimore, Maryland; it relocated to Indianapolis following the 1983 season.
Carroll Rosenbloom brought an NFL franchise to Baltimore in 1953 and owned the team until 1972 when he traded the franchise to Robert Irsay. The Baltimore Colts won the NFL Championship in 1958, 1959 and 1968, with the Colts losing to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. The Colts won their first Super Bowl title in 1970 over the Dallas Cowboys. During this time the organization was led by star quarterback Johnny Unitas until 1973 when he was traded to the San Diego Chargers. Following disappointing seasons and poor fan attendance, the franchise moved to Indianapolis in 1984. While in Baltimore the team achieved ten postseason appearances and won four championships.
The Colts organization struggled in the early days in Indianapolis, compiling an 88–135 record from 1984 to 1997. During that time the Colts were led by seven different head coaches and seventeen different starting quarterbacks. The organization made three postseason appearances during the time, with the most success coming in 1995 and 1996 under quarterback Jim Harbaugh. The 1995 team made it to the AFC Championship Game, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Robert Irsay remained the principal owner of the Colts until his death in 1997 when the franchise was turned over to his son Jim Irsay, who is the current owner of the team.
Following a 3–13 season in 1997, the organization drafted quarterback Peyton Manning, who started for the Colts for thirteen seasons from 1998 until 2010. Under Manning the Colts saw their greatest success and during his time with the team made eleven postseason appearances, with nine consecutive appearances from 2002 to 2010. The Colts won eight division titles during this time along with two conference championships in 2006 and 2009. The Colts won their second Super Bowl title overall and their first while in Indianapolis during the 2006 season. From 1998 to 2011, the Colts were coached by Jim Mora, Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell. Following a 2–14 record in 2011 when Manning had been sidelined for the whole season, the Peyton Manning era came to an end in 2012, when the organization released him following multiple neck surgeries. The Colts began to rebuild and drafted quarterback Andrew Luck.Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts are an American football team based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) South division. Since the 2008 season, the Colts have played their games in Lucas Oil Stadium. Previously, the team had played for over two decades (1984–2007) at the RCA Dome. Since 1987, the Colts have been the host team for the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Colts have been a member club of the NFL since their founding in Baltimore in 1953. They were one of three NFL teams to join those of the American Football League (AFL) to form the AFC following the 1970 merger. While in Baltimore, the team advanced to the playoffs 10 times and won three NFL Championship games in 1958, 1959, and 1968. The Colts played in two Super Bowls while they were based in Baltimore, losing to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III and defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. The Colts relocated to Indianapolis in 1984 and have since appeared in the playoffs 16 times, won two conference championships, and won one Super Bowl, in which they defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.Joe Staysniak
Joseph Andrew Staysniak (born December 8, 1866) is a sports radio talk show host and a former professional American football offensive lineman who played six seasons in the NFL. Currently, Staysniak works for the talk radio stations WIBC (FM) and WFNI (AM) in Indianapolis.List of Hail Mary passes in American football
This is a list, ordered by year, of famous Hail Mary plays from collegiate and professional football in the United States.List of Indianapolis Colts starting quarterbacks
The Indianapolis Colts are a professional American football team based in Indianapolis, Indiana. They are currently members of the South Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) in the National Football League (NFL).
The club was officially founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1953, as the Baltimore Colts, replacing a previous team of that name that folded in 1950. After 31 seasons in Baltimore, Colts owner Robert Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis.
The Colts have had 33 starting quarterbacks (QB) in the history of their franchise. The Colts' past starting quarterbacks include Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Unitas, as well as the Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) winners Earl Morrall and Bert Jones. Unitas also won the MVP award three times in his career. The franchise's first starting quarterback was Fred Enke, who started 9 games in total for the Colts. The Colts' starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011 was 5-time MVP Peyton Manning. The Colts' current starting quarterback is Andrew Luck.NFL's Greatest Games
NFL's Greatest Games is a series of television programs that air on NFL Network, ESPN and related networks. They are condensed versions of some of the most famous games in the history of the National Football League, using footage and sound captured by NFL Films, as well as original interviews. All installments produced before 2015 are 90 minutes in length, and are presented with a title in respect to the game being featured. Starting in 2015, new installments produced run for either 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 90 minutes, and no longer have a title beyond the actual game itself that is featured.
The series began with Super Bowl III, the New York Jets' 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts. ESPN debuted the program in 1999, on the 30th anniversary of the original game. More telecasts followed in the ensuing months.
In 2007, NFL Network unveiled Super Bowl Classics, a version of this program using complete videotaped games.
The "NFL's Greatest Games" banner is also occasionally used for episodes of the 1970s public television series The Way It Was that covered classic NFL games prior to 1958.Randy Fuller
Randy Fuller (born June 2, 1970 in Griffin, Georgia) is a former professional American football player who played cornerback for six seasons for the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers. Atlanta Falcons, and Seattle Seahawks. He is known for breaking up the "Hail Mary" pass from Jim Harbaugh intended for Aaron Bailey in the 1995 AFC Championship Game to secure the Steelers victory, sending them to their fifth Super Bowl (XXX), and their first in 16 years.Ted Marchibroda
Theodore Joseph "Ted" Marchibroda (March 15, 1931 – January 16, 2016) was an American football quarterback and head coach in the National Football League (NFL). He spent his four years as an active player with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1953, 1955–1956) and Chicago Cardinals (1957). He was later head coach of the Colts in two different cities and decades, first in Baltimore during the 1970s and then Indianapolis during the early-1990s. Upon joining the Baltimore Ravens in a similar capacity in 1996, he became the only individual to serve as head coach with both of Baltimore's NFL teams. His career coaching record was 87–98–1 (.470) and 2–4 in the playoffs.Three Rivers Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium was a multi-purpose stadium located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1970 to 2000. It was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL).
Built as a replacement for Forbes Field, which opened in 1909, the US$55 million ($375.8 million today) multi-purpose facility was designed to maximize efficiency. Ground was broken in April 1968 and an oft behind-schedule construction plan lasted for 29 months. The stadium opened on July 16, 1970, when the Pirates played their first game there. In the 1971 World Series, Three Rivers Stadium hosted the first World Series game played at night. The following year, the stadium was the site of the Immaculate Reception. The final game in the stadium was won by the Steelers on December 16, 2000. Three Rivers Stadium also hosted the Pittsburgh Maulers of the United States Football League and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team for a single season each.After its closing, Three Rivers Stadium was imploded in 2001, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers moved into newly built stadiums: PNC Park and Heinz Field, respectively.
|Division championships (16)|
|Conference championships (7)|
|League championships (5)|
|Current league affiliations|
Championship seasons in bold
|Division championships (23)|
|Conference championships (8)|
|League championships (6)|
|Hall of Fame members|
|Current league affiliations|
Championship seasons in bold