It’s Jim Harbaugh’s birthday today. While he is now a high profile head coach, he used to be an NFL quarterback nicknamed ‘Captain Comeback’.
Harbaugh was one of the most prolific scrambling quarterbacks of his era, with Steve Young and Randall Cunningham being his contemporaries. Harbaugh ranks in the top 15 all time for rushing yards by a quarterback with 2,787.
During his years with the Colts, Harbaugh was part of a “let it rip” offense that allowed him to take shots down the field and engineer come from behind victories. He was the runner up for MVP in 1995 with the Colts, where he nearly beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
Throughout Harbaugh’s NFL career, he was a starter for the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and San Diego Chargers.
Harbaugh was known as a tough quarterback and a “mudder”, someone who didn’t mind playing in the rain, mud, sleet, or snow. He played in an era where a roughing the passer penalty was virtually non-existent, he’d take a helmet to the chin and get back up for the next play.
We thought it would be fun to look back at Harbaugh’s playing days and showcase some of his finest moments as a pro, games and plays which define his character both then and now.
Harbaugh coughs up blood
One of the coldest days in Arrowhead history today. Coldest was -6 kickoff vs Colts in 1996. Jim Harbaugh was opposing QB ( by @GettySport) pic.twitter.com/hLTtcSxgvf— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 18, 2016
In one of the coldest games ever played in NFL history, Harbaugh gave one of his most gutsy performances in his career. Going up against the 13-3 Kansas Chiefs in the 1995 AFC Divisional Round, no one picked the 9-7 Colts to go into Arrowhead Stadium and win in these elements.
Not only was the weather ferocious, the Chiefs defense packed a heavy punch too. With the Colts down in the game, things didn’t look good, especially with Harbaugh coughing up blood on the sideline after taking some big hits. Surely he’d be out of the game? No. "My [left] shoulder popped out a little bit and I was coughing up blood, but after I coughed it all out I felt better," said Harbaugh with a grin.
The Colts would come from behind and win the game 10-7. A little blood loss didn’t bother Captain Comeback.
“How bout them Colts!”
#Colts QB Jim Harbaugh celebrates Indianapolis' thrilling 1996 win over the Dallas Cowboys. #NFL pic.twitter.com/Q1nJRdEN2x— Retro Sports (@RetroSports411) August 17, 2016
Although the Colts were a Hail Mary away from the Super Bowl a year prior, no one gave them a shot early in the 1996 season to beat the Dallas Cowboys, who were the reigning champs. Things didn’t look good early with the Colts down 21-3 on the road, but by the third quarter the score was 22-21. The Cowboys regained the lead but Harbaugh led the Colts to a last minute comeback. The Colts won 25-24 and improved to 3-0. As Harbaugh ran off the field he shouted “How bout them Colts!”
Harbaugh fights for the fumble
20 Years Ago This Week: Jim Harbaugh leads Indianapolis Colts to a 4-0 start with a victory over the Dolphins pic.twitter.com/9kXzEIr9T2— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 28, 2016
Quarterbacks normally don’t dive into a pile to recover a fumble, in recent years we’ve even seen Cam Newton move away from one instead of jumping on it in the Super Bowl. Against Dan Marino’s Dolphins, one of Harbaugh’s proudest moments occurred when he decided to get in to the scrum and recover the football.
“It was probably one of my proudest plays as a player, to go in to one of the piles, had half of the ball and was able to work it and came up with the ball,” Harbaugh said. “It was exactly how I described it, like an arm wrestling match. Couldn’t even lift up my arms after I was done because I was straining so hard to keep the leverage of the ball.”
When asked if he ever thought about staying out of those piles Harbaugh said “It’d be hard to live with yourself if you turned that down as a quarterback or any other position,” he said. “(There are) some things that really bother a man all the way to the rest of his life.”
The Colts won the game and improved to 4-0.
Destroys Marino and Dolphins in last Colts home game of career
In Harbaugh's last home game as a Colt, he engineers one of the biggest shutout thumpings in NFL history over the Dolphins, 41-0 pic.twitter.com/5r3kb6eLc7— Trevor Woods (@WoodsFootball) December 23, 2017
Late in the 1997 with the Colts having one of the worst records in the league, Jim Harbaugh’s future with the Colts wasn’t certain, as it appeared Indy had a good shot at drafting Peyton Manning. Harbaugh did everything he could to show the Colts brass and fans he had some good stuff left in the tank against the Dolphins. Harbaugh threw for four touchdowns in what would be his last home game as the Colts quarterback. What a way to say goodbye to his fans.
Beats Colts in their return to Baltimore, gives Johnny Unitas game ball
Johnny Unitas and Jim Harbaugh (yep, him!): pic.twitter.com/U3L52TCb54— Jamie Harrison (@JamieHarrison__) December 9, 2016
This game had a lot on the line for both Harbaugh and the city of Baltimore. After losing their beloved Baltimore Colts a decade prior, this game was a big deal for the Baltimore faithful, a sense of revenge was in the air. For Harbaugh, he was squaring off against rookie Peyton Manning, who succeeded him as starting quarterback of the Colts. This was a must win game because of both reasons.
The Ravens were down in this game 24-10, then they were down 31-21 going into the fourth quarter. But as Captain Comeback seemed to do time and time again in his career happened, he brought his team back. The Ravens score 17 unanswered points in the fourth and beat the Colts 38-31.
After the victory, the first order of business was handing out the game ball. Former Baltimore Colts quarterback legend Johnny Unitas was on the sideline for this game, Harbaugh found him and gave him the game ball. All the accolades Unitas received throughout his life surely meant a lot, but the picture above says a thousand words. It’s clear the gesture by Harbaugh was an honor for Unitas.