INDIANAPOLIS – Fifty-nine minutes of intense struggle against New England now provided one minute from glory for the 2006 Indianapolis Colts.
With 60 ticks left on the clock in the 2007 AFC Championship game, the Colts needed to defend 79 yards of turf to reach Super Bowl XLI.
The team had clawed back from a 21-3 deficit and had just taken its first lead and to a degree, many players on it were contending with seasons of past playoff disappointments.
Looking at the New England offense, Marlin Jackson was thinking positively.
“We had just taken the lead, so there were a lot of different emotions. Guys knew we had to step up and make a play,” said Jackson. “Cato June and I were going back and forth, ‘I’m going to make the big play. I’m going to make the big play.’ ”
Tom Brady had made big plays and was taking aim again. Brady hit Benjamin Watson for 19 yards, and he called timeout with 24 seconds left after he found Heath Evans to the Colts’ 45.
A Super Bowl berth hung in doubt, and Jackson resorted to basic training. From film study, Jackson saw Brady looked one way in a multiple-receiver set then attacked the other side of the field.
“When we got that formation opposite from me, I knew he would look away and blindly throw in my direction,” said Jackson. “I lined up a bit deeper so I didn’t have to make a read going backwards. I could sit and read (Brady).
“He was throwing to Watson, the third option on the inside. He was looking away, then going to (him). He wanted the defense to move that way, then come back and hit that open receiver. I didn’t go for the fake. I stood my ground and broke on the ball. I knew I had it when he released it. I timed it up perfectly, took off and made the interception.”
Jackson took a couple of steps and slid down, and he was mobbed on the ground by teammates. A 38-34 victory was secured, and Indianapolis had seized a Super moment.
As Jackson still cradled the ball moments later, confetti rained down on him. The noise from 57,433 in attendance sounded tenfold yet to this day, Jackson can recall what went through his mind and the feelings he experienced.
“After I thought about getting down on the ground, I thought, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl.’ It was like, ‘Did that just happen? Did I just do that?’ It was that type of feeling,” said Jackson. “I couldn’t believe I was able to make a play like that. Some things you know immediately the capacity of what just happened, knowing I just helped to send my team to the Super Bowl for the first time.”
Indianapolis had failed at home in the playoffs as the top seed in Jackson’s 2005 rookie season. The club had fallen in the playoffs annually since 2002, losing to the Patriots in Foxborough following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Pent up emotions now were unbridled for the team and its fans.
“It was really special, and I realized it right away,” said Jackson. “The confetti was coming down on the field. It was amazing just screaming out because you were overwhelmed with the emotion that comes from that type of moment.
“It was overwhelming. Players are taught not to get too far ahead of ourselves, not to get too high or low, just look forward to the moment at hand. In doing that, you don’t spend too much time thinking about the aftermath and what it would be like. Once you get to the moment, there is so much overwhelming happiness and excitement. In this, it was knowing you’re going to the Super Bowl.”
It is likely every Colts fan can recite where he or she was when Jackson’s interception ended the memorable title bout. Many tell him when they see him, and often it includes an imitation of a cherished radio call.
“I get asked about that play all the time. People tell me where they were and what they did when the play happened,” said Jackson. “They’ll rattle off Bob Lamey’s radio call, ‘Marlin’s got it. Marlin’s got it. We’re going to the Super Bowl!’ There is a lot of that that goes on.”
Jackson started every game in 2007. Knee injuries curtailed his 2008 and 2009 seasons, and his career ended after a stint with Philadelphia in 2010.
Jackson resides in the Indianapolis area and among business ventures runs his non-profit Fight-for-Life Foundation. As he comes across people, some get to see the artifact that put the Colts in the Super Bowl.
“I have the ball. I have the gloves I caught the ball with,” said Jackson. “The ball is painted with the date, opponent and final score on it. I have a picture of it in the gloves on my Twitter account.
“Sometimes if I’m doing (an appearance), I’ll bring the ball out and let people see it and take a picture with it. People think it’s cool. It’s fun for them to hold the actual ball.”
Jackson appreciates the time he spent playing football. His dedication in film study and the aspects of the game away from the field created success on it.
He realizes also that he is one of a fortunate few who have such a positive moment define an athletic career.
“I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make a play that is remembered by so many people,” said Jackson. “It is that one moment that sticks so long with a number of people. I’m blessed for that.
“Sometimes everything aligns correctly. That’s the perfection that lies in the game of football, when things come in one moment to create something special. That’s (the interception) definitely the highlight of my football career.”