Throwback Thursday: Jim Mora Loses It
Fourteen years ago, Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora delivered the hilarious post-game rant to end all hilarious post-game rants.
Editor's note: Each week VICE Sports will take a look back at an important sports event from this week in sports history. We are calling this regular feature Throwback Thursday, or #TBT for all you cool kids. You can read previous installments here.
It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora was pissed. Mora's team had just been drubbed at home by the San Francisco 49ers for a third straight loss—a game that saw the Colts allow 20 unanswered points while their fourth-year quarterback, Peyton Manning, tossed four interceptions. Coming off two ascendant seasons of 13 and 10 wins, respectively, the 2001 Colts were fading fast.
So was Mora. After 40 years as a coach and 15 years leading NFL teams, the Eagle Scout and ex-Marine from California was nearing the end of the line. He was feuding with Manning, his star quarterback, and also with team president Bill Polian, who wanted him to fire defensive coordinator Vic Fangio—something the fiercely loyal Mora refused to do.
Mora's players knew their head coach was prone to comically hyperbolic blowups. They even had a nickname for his volatile temper.
"Every once in awhile, he would just get in a certain mood and we would call it T-Rex," former Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith said with a laugh. "We would hold our hands up to our chest like we had real short arms and just pretend we were gonna bite somebody."
Over time, the joke grew in dimension. "There was a noise that it evolved into," Smith said. "You would hear somebody go 'RHAAAA!!!' like a T. Rex, and the idea was that he was just about to bite somebody's head off."
After the San Francisco defeat, T. Rex came out. In the locker room, Mora was excoriating his team for their poor play and their turnovers. Just as he turned to slam his fist into a dry-erase board, Mora noticed some feet underneath it. Members of the Colts medical staff were standing behind the board, chatting. Mora calmly trudged over to the other side.
"Hey, you guys get out of the way," he said.
The men shuffled off. Mora walked back around to face his team and let loose, toppling the dry-erase board over and sending markers flying in every direction.
Next, he went out to address the media. Mora was known for some of the game's most colorful postgame press conferences. He made up words ("We couldn't do diddley poo offensively"). He called out his coaches ("Coaching did a horrible job"). He called out his players ("The players did a horrible job"). He could be short ("We sucked!"). He could be caustic ("I'm sure people vomited in the stands after watching our kicking game").
What followed this time was his to be signature moment: a display of inane incredulity that would endure years after the coach stopped waging war against dry-erase boards.
Playoffs. Say the word in a high-pitched register of utter disbelief, and even now chances are most NFL fans will know exactly what you're referencing.
Back then, on November 25, 2001, the fateful question about the Colts' postseason chances was posed by WRTV reporter Tim Bragg.
"Playoffs?!?!" Mora screeched in shock, raising an eyebrow and scrunching up his face. "Don't talk about playoffs! You kiddin' me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!"
That Mora would pop off wasn't wholly surprising. "He was terrific to cover because he was pretty honest," said longtime Indianapolis journalist Bob Kravitz. "He was better to cover after a loss than he was a victory."
Indeed, Mora had begun the infamous press conference by saying "You can't blame that one on the defense," a thinly veiled reference to Manning's poor performance. Manning was not pleased.
"What went on in the locker room is our business," Manning told reporters before the following week's game against Baltimore. "What bothers me is that what he said to us in that locker room became the entire country's business. And I don't like that."
Star quarterbacks don't often like being called out in public. The then-65-year-old Mora didn't always grasp the fact that some players needed (and deserved) special treatment. "He was fair, and I think in his generation fair meant you treat everyone the same," Smith said. "You can have the same hope for everyone...but there's different ways to coach them."
Coincidentally or not, the Colts would lose four of their next six games to end the season a disappointing 6-10. Mora was fired, never to coach again. He was replaced by the even-keeled Tony Dungy, who five years later led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl championship.
Mora's sound bite has come to overshadow a pretty darned good coaching career. Before joining Indianapolis, he spent 11 years in New Orleans, turning around a perennially awful Saints team and leading the franchise to its first winning season and playoff appearance. In Indianapolis, Mora took the Colts from 3-13 his first year to 13-3 the next. He left football with the most wins (125) of any coach never to win a playoff game.
On the other hand, "PLAYOFFS?!?!" has made Mora a part of pop culture history. The quote has been a part of coaching-meltdown highlight reels ever since. It was used in a Coors Light commercial in 2006. Mora was amazed at the attention the comment got, but he didn't exactly shy away from it, either. "Oh yeah," he told ESPN a few years ago. "It's paid some bills."
Today, NFL coaches act as if answering the most basic questions about their team is akin to giving away the nuclear codes. Omerta rules the day. Not so with Mora. He showed that it was OK for a football coach to acknowledge what the fans already knew, even if that meant acknowledging that your own team sucked.
After the presser ended, Mora grabbed Kravitz. "We go into a backroom," Kravitz said, "and he says, 'Bob, did I say anything out there that was untrue?'"
Mora called it like he saw it. He showed us that losing might not be as fun as winning, but it is often much funnier.