Fool Marchibroda twice, shame on him


OK, clearly Ted Marchibroda's head was fuzzy. I mean, how else does the guy take the job?

He was confused or drugged or his children were being held hostage. Or maybe he was forced to sit next to Thurman Thomas on the long plane ride back from Minneapolis. It can't simply be that he was offered the job and that he took it. Many things defy easy explanation, say Lee Iacocca's salary or Brent Musburger's enduring popularity, but this -- this is impossible to explain or to understand.

So, when I turn on the TV to see Marchibroda meet the press, and he says, "I'm very excited to be named coach of the Baltimore Colts," I'm thinking maybe he's talking in code. Maybe it's a plea for help. Or maybe I had rented "Back to the Future" and stuck it in the VCR by mistake.

It is confusing. I know these are hard times, but nobody could be that desperate to go back to the Colts, who, I've learned exclusively, are now in Indiana.

Something's going on, something we don't understand, and it can't just be that Marchibroda couldn't take the Buffalo winters, although Buffalo may be the only place from which you can move to Indianapolis and think you've taken a step up.

What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?

(Editor's note: As we try to solve this mystery, there will be times here when we will be forced to use the "I" word, so please, no children under 13, no one with a heart condition and no former Colts should read past this point.)

Anybody, I guess, could work for Bob Irsay once. You gamble that he couldn't be as bad as his mother says he is. You figure if you stay away from "happy hour," you probably won't bump into him. OK, face it: It's your first job, and you'll take anything. By the way, working for Irsay is the working definition of I'll take anything.

But work for him twice?

That's different. Twice is dumb. Twice is part of the old expression -- once burned, twice shy. The thing you need to know about Irsay is that he's a walking fire alarm. Red Adair doesn't work for this guy. Smokey the Bear doesn't work for this guy. I'll tell you how bad it is: Even Bill Parcells wouldn't call him.

Working for Irsay twice is like working for Steinbrenner twice. It's more dangerous than dating Gennifer Flowers once. We're talking death wish here. The life expectancy of your average Colts coach under Irsay is only slightly longer than a typical Buffalo Bills drive under Marchibroda.

But there was old Ted, just the way you remember him. He was the last Colts coach to win a division title in a non-strike year, but that was so long ago, it was pre-cable. It was a time of leisure suits and when disco was cutting edge.

It was a time when people in Baltimore still used Mayflower vans.

Irsay would fire him, just as he fired everyone else, and Marchibroda became your basic career assistant, winding up in Buffalo, where he invented the no-huddle offense and would have been famous except, well, there's this matter of the Super Bowl. After watching the Bills' offense in the Ultimate Game, a lot of teams might have backed off Marchibroda. But the Colts aren't like a lot of teams. Who else could they get?

So, they called Marchibroda anyway. What would you have said in his place?

Right. Me, too.

And, no, I can't print it in a family newspaper.

But I've got a few tips for Marchibroda. Ted, some things have changed since you last coached the Colts. No crab cakes. No outdoors. No Bert Jones.

The old neighborhood doesn't look the same. Well, actually it looks the same, but you're not going to be there.

Here in Baltimore, we get along without pro football. In Indianapolis, it's worse. They have the Colts.

The no-huddle might be a big hit there, however. I've heard many football people say that the less time the Colts' offense is on the field, the better.

And I heard you say you can turn the Colts around right away. I don't know. Let's just say that Rick Venturi won one game this season, and that was one game more than the guy he replaced. It's going to be tough.

But there could be a good moment or two. There would be one when Irsay wakes up -- how shall I put it, befuddled? -- from a midafternoon slumber, only to find Marchibroda is the coach. What goes through his mind? Sure, he thinks it's 1975 again. He thinks he ought to be in Baltimore. He thinks that Memorial Stadium is a little slice of heaven and maybe the Colts will win the Super Bowl.

When he looks out the window and sees Indianapolis instead of Baltimore, Irsay rushes to the phone and says: "Fire up the moving vans. We're going home."

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