Captain Comeback? Colts coach Frank Reich can claim the title

Frank Reich threw four second-half TD passes against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993. AP Photo/John Hickey

INDIANAPOLIS -- Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy was walking down the tunnel at halftime at then Rich Stadium when he had a message for quarterback Frank Reich on that cold Jan. 3 day in 1993 during their wild-card playoff game against the Houston Oilers.

"I told Frank, 'I heard that you led the greatest comeback in college history,'" Levy, 93, told ESPN on Thursday. "And I continued by saying, 'Today you're going to lead the greatest comeback in pro history.' I wasn't sure if he was listening to me, but he nodded his head in agreement."

"When Frank played? Nope. I have no idea what you're talking about." Colts tight end Eric Ebron on if he's familiar with Reich's comebacks

Levy's comments probably were laughable at the time as the Bills trailed the Oilers 28-3 and then 35-3 after Reich, filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half.

Levy was right at the time, and still is 25 years later. The Bills overcame the loss of Kelly and several other key starters with an incredible rally to beat Houston 41-38 in overtime, largely because of the play of Reich and his never-flinch demeanor in a game that's known by many as "The Comeback."

"Frank never once became rattled by what we were dealing with," Levy said of the current Colts coach. "He had a just-keep-plugging demeanor. He was not big into pep talks. He led by his actions."

That playoff game was Reich's big moment during a 13-year playing career in the NFL spent largely as a backup. He'll face the same team he spent nine seasons with when the Bills visit Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Several of Reich's former Buffalo teammates are expected to attend the game.

"Of course personally, I have high regard for the Bills organization," Reich said. "I can't not. I root for and I like the Bills and have a lot of friends there, still there. ... It was a real close-knit group. [We] had a lot of good years and a lot of wins together, so it will be good to see whoever ends up showing up."

What happened more than 25 years ago has been heard about more than watched on video inside the Colts locker room. The Colts have only 22 players who are at least 26 years old on the active roster.

"When Frank played? Nope," tight end Eric Ebron said. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I wasn't even a football fan until high school."

No YouTube clips?

"I heard about it but haven't seen any old highlights of it," receiver T.Y. Hilton said.

What about Googling it?

"Only heard of it," veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo said.

NFL Films?

"No sir," rookie linebacker Darius Leonard said. "Don't know much about it."

Of the players asked, backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and veteran linebacker Najee Goode were the only ones who were familiar with Reich's performance, when he finished 21-of-34 for 289 yards and four touchdowns.

"I didn't know it was Frank who led the comeback," Goode said. "When I saw it was him, I was like, 'Hell nah' that's not Frank, laughing. But he was balling. He had control of things out there."

Reich's unflappable approach to coaching on the sideline today is the same way he approached things when he led Maryland's comeback against the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 10, 1984. Reich replaced Stan Gelbaugh to start the second half with Maryland trailing 31-0 at the Orange Bowl, and pushed the Terps to a 42-40 victory.

Reich had the same approach eight years later in Buffalo.

"He attacked things mentally and with a lot of intelligence and he executed the plays," former Bills receiver Steve Tasker said. "You have to give him the bulk of the credit for that comeback. Frank was unchanging throughout the game no matter what happened, good or bad. He kept saying, 'You keep playing hard, make our own breaks.' Sometimes you get lucky. We didn't know what the next play was going to hold."

It wasn't Levy, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, dictating things that afternoon for the Bills. It was Reich calling the plays with the blessing of Levy. All four of Reich's touchdown passes were in the second half.

"His composure, his readiness was just amazing," Levy said. "Just the way the he conducted himself. He has utter respect from all of his teammates. He was a remarkable guy. Our playbook was about 20 percent the size of other teams in the league. I really believed in simplicity. Frank called a lot of those plays. I'd probably say 75 percent of the calls made when we were coming back were his calls. I guess I was right when I told him he'd have the greatest comeback in pro sports history."