INDIANAPOLIS – Aaron Bailey is linked with Jim Harbaugh in a moment almost frozen in time because it happened on a singular play in their careers.
Harbaugh and Bailey played with the 1995 Colts and fought with teammates through two playoff battles to reach the 1996 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh.
Late in that game, the Colts moved from deep in their territory to the Pittsburgh 29 with five seconds to go. The final play was a lob pass to the end zone where Bailey hung among three Pittsburgh defenders.
The mayhem for the ball tilted Bailey’s way. He was not able to secure it before hitting the ground and when he landed hard, the ball rolled off his stomach and grazed the turf before he could grasp it.
That moment did not define their careers, though it has been replayed numerous times since then.
The two were teammates through 1997 before Harbaugh departed, finishing his career with Baltimore and San Diego. Bailey played one more year with Indianapolis, then headed to the XFL for one year and to the Arena League for six years, ending his career in 2006 after a neck injury.
Bailey will watch Harbaugh try to reach Super Bowl XLVII as head coach of San Francisco. He knows how close his former teammate and high school alumnus was to reaching last year’s Super Bowl. San Francisco lost at home in overtime.
“I hope the third time is the charm for him,” said Bailey. “Jim and I, and his brother (John), went to Pioneer High School. They were older than I, so we weren’t there at the same time. The whole city of Ann Arbor, where I was born and raised, is pulling for them.
“I want Jim to make it over the hump and get to the Super Bowl. It would give me a little closure as well to see him make it. I’m going to be in front of my TV this weekend. I’m going to be watching Jim. Perhaps for him to make it to the Super Bowl and win it, that would be great.”
Marcus Pollard was a first-year pro watching from the bench in Pittsburgh when Harbaugh and Bailey nearly teamed up for the game-winning play.
Pollard was a project player for the Colts out of Bradley University. Playing forward on the basketball team, Pollard had no football pedigree. His athleticism was his ticket to the NFL.
In 1996 against Dallas, Pollard took a short pass from Harbaugh and broke seven tackles on the way to a 48-yard touchdown. It was his first career reception. It came in the middle of a comeback from a 21-3 deficit in an eventual 25-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, the team Indianapolis would have faced in Super Bowl XXX had it won in Pittsburgh.
Pollard lasted well beyond Harbaugh and Bailey in Indianapolis, even playing in the team’s next AFC Championship game appearance after the 2003 season.
Pollard credited Harbaugh for providing early career guidance. He sees a correlation between Harbaugh the player and Harbaugh the coach, and he has the same rooting interest on Sunday as Bailey.
“I hope Jimmy pulls it out. I hope it happens for him,” said Pollard. “He was really influential in my career. He always said, ‘Marcus, be good at something. You don’t have to be good at everything, but be good at one thing.’ I took a lot of lessons from him about being a professional. I have to give him a lot of credit for what I achieved in my career.
“For him to be a coach and be giving that same advice to his young players, to me it’s no surprise the success they’re having. To see him finally get past that elusive championship game would do my heart a lot of good. I know how hard it is to get to that moment.”