INDIANAPOLIS – The quarterback used the word.
But it wasn't like many observers and analysts wouldn't have used it first had they thought about it.
Jim Harbaugh, in summing up the biggest victory in the first 12 years of the Indianapolis Colts franchise, stood in a jubilant corner of Arrowhead Stadium in early January 1996, and tried to put in perspective what a whole lot of NFL folks had been thinking.
“We're just a bunch of ragamuffins out there – that's what everybody says,” Harbaugh told the Indianapolis Star.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines ragamuffins as follows:
A shabbily-clothed, dirty child.
And if that was how the NFL world saw the Colts for much of the 1995 season, Harbaugh and the rest of that season's remarkable Colts knew in the locker room that day in early January 1996 that the term just didn't apply anymore.
Colts 10, Kansas City Chiefs 7.
“We get no respect from anyone on television and everyone had counted us out from Day One,” linebacker Jeff Herrod said following a Colts victory in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. “We just keep playing street ball and proving people wrong.”
The Chiefs had entered the playoffs following the 1995 season as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, a team with a dominant defense, the best record in the NFL and a home-field advantage considered one of the most advantageous in the league.
The Colts? Well, what the Colts had was a 10-7 record including an upset post-season victory the week before, a banged up running back – starter Marshall Faulk wouldn't play against the Chiefs because of a knee injury – and a general lack of regard from NFL followers.
Here's what else the Colts had, though.
They had a belief in themselves, and after they talked extensively about after pulling away from the defending AFC Champion San Diego Chargers the week before, they took it to the frigid, frozen field of Kansas City the following week.
As it had the week before, against the heavily-favored Chiefs, it mattered.
And it mattered quite a lot.
But while history remembers three missed field goals by Chiefs kicker Lin Elliott in the game, the reality was the Colts were in the game from the start, and the Chiefs – despite 13 victories against three regular-season losses – never could gain control.
“We shocked the world, baby,” the Star quoted safety Jason Belser saying as he ran from the field.
The Colts did so not only without Faulk, but without three other starters – running back Roosevelt Potts, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and offensive guard Randy Dixon.
They did so with the decibel level at Arrowhead reportedly reaching and surpassing 100.
They did so with temperatures going the opposite way, dipping well past freezing – all the way to 11 degrees.
They did so with key players making key plays at critical moments.
And they also did so after Kansas City thrilled the home crowd with a touchdown in the first quarter. When quarterback Steve Bono passed 20 yards to wide receiver Lake Dawson with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter, the Chiefs had a 7-0 lead.
Indianapolis responded immediately.
With Harbaugh, who earlier in the season earned his Captain Comeback moniker with dramatic rallies at Miami and the New York Jets, playing efficiently, the Colts drained away much of the second quarter with an 18-play, 77-yard drive that consumed 8:40.
It did more than that. It also tied the game when Harbaugh threw five yards to wide receiver Floyd Turner 6:49 before halftime.
Five times on the drive Harbaugh converted third down into first. Another time, running back Lamont Warren rushed four yards on 4th-and-1 from the Kansas City 38.
“We've got guys hurt, we've got guys sick, we're missing guys, we're on the road,” Colts veteran center Kirk Lowdermilk told the Star. “But you know what? We hung together.”
The touchdown drive made it 7-7, and the rest of the game would be about field goals – both missed and made – and defense.
With 2:48 remaining in the third quarter, Colts kicker Cary Blanchard converted from 30 yards after a nine-play drive set up when cornerback Ashley Ambrose intercepted Steve Bono. That was the first of three Colts second-half interceptions.
The Colts produced just 17 more yards and did not have a fourth-quarter first down, but on this day, it didn't matter. Indianapolis held Bono to 11-of-25 passing for 122 yards, and it was backup Rich Gannon who directed the Chiefs' last-ditch drive for a potential tying field goal.
The drive reached the Colts 25, but Elliott – who earlier had missed from 35 and 39 yards – pulled a 42-yard attempt wide left with 37 seconds remaining. A trip to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game was ensured, and a celebration ensued.
“I don't think too many people outside our locker room felt we could do this,” Harbaugh said after passing for 112 yards and running for 48. “I don't have all the answers, but I know there's no magic formula about it.”
Cornerback Ray Buchanan said while there perhaps was no formula, there were some real and simple reasons for a playoff run few expected.
“We respect each other, we like each other and it makes it even sweeter when you think about where we've come from,” Buchanan said.
Colts Head Coach Ted Marchibroda provided perspective – and another moniker – saying, “This isn't a fluke. Nobody picks us, but that's fine with us. We're the Dead End Kids.”
Dead End Kids. Ragamuffins.
It didn't matter to the Colts as they left Arrowhead Stadium that day in early 1996. They were headed home one victory from the Super Bowl, and they weren't the NFL's dirty children anymore.