Commentary

Remembered for that? You kidding me?

Jim Mora had never really seen his most famous news conference -- until recently

Originally Published: December 1, 2011
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- If you're a college kid or a casual NFL fan, you probably wouldn't know that the guy striding down the hall of this high-end hotel won 125 games as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. That this relentlessly energetic man in crisp, dark jeans and a mauve sweater directed the Stars to the first two USFL title games back in the day, winning one.

No, the only thing you probably know for sure -- thanks to the folks at the Coors Brewing Company -- is that Jim Mora Sr. delivered one of the greatest news conference performances in the history of sports. A decade after it happened, he says, he had never seen it in its raw form until last Monday.

Today, Mora still comports himself with the precise, military bearing that characterized his coaching reigns; he remains very much an earnest Eagle Scout and U.S. Marine. He is rail-thin with a full head of steel-colored hair and sports the eternal tan of a bona fide Southern Californian. He is 76 years old but could easily pass for 60.

Mora, always a truth-teller, thinks this whole thing is silly -- and says so more than once. But, tentatively, he sits down, then intently watches the monitor. The celebrated eight-second sound byte rolls through the laptop, and afterward he seems vaguely puzzled.

"That was it, huh?" he says, shaking his head. "It's amazing to me that that has got so much attention."

Some 256 times this regular season, a losing NFL coach will attempt to gather his fractured, frenzied thoughts and face the media a few minutes after the fact. It has happened thousands of times over the years, but you can count on one hand the times a coach didn't follow the accepted protocol by tempering his emotions, downplaying the significance of the loss and, perhaps, telling something less than the truth. Coors, ingeniously, sells a lot of beer by mining gold from Dennis Green, Herman Edwards and Jim Mora.

Back when he was coaching the Saints, Mora displayed the dazzling potential -- a searing sliver of honesty -- in a similar situation. It was 1996 and New Orleans had just lost to the Carolina Panthers to fall to 2-6. Mora was disgusted.

"We got our ass kicked," he said in his distinctive, high-intensity nasal tone. "In the second half, we just got our ass totally kicked. We couldn't do diddly poo offensively, we couldn't make a first down, we couldn't run the ball, we didn't try to run the ball, we couldn't complete a pass -- we sucked."

Diddly poo immediately became the stuff of sports legend, destined to reside on the Mount Rushmore of live meltdowns alongside Joe Namath's clumsy attempt to cadge a kiss from Suzy Kolber and Jim Rome's explosive interview with Jim Everett.

"Diddly poo -- yeah, bad," Mora said earlier this week with a characteristic grimace. "That's the one I probably dislike the most. Diddly poo? No. You don't say diddly poo. You just don't."

And, after saying it three times, he laughed loudly.

"What other coach has ever said diddly poo after a game? Ridiculous."

Make that four.

On Nov. 25, 2001, after the Colts' 40-21 loss to the 49ers, Mora surpassed himself. Here is how his postgame monologue began:

"Well, I'll start off by saying this: Do not blame that game on the defense, OK? I don't care who you play -- whether it's a high school team, a junior college team, a college team, much less an NFL team. When you turn the ball over five times -- four interceptions, one for a touchdown, three others in field position to set up touchdowns -- you ain't going to beat anybody I just talked about. Anybody. All right?

"And that was a disgraceful performance in my opinion. We threw that game. We gave it away by doing that. We gave them the friggin' game. In my opinion, that sucked. Ah. You know? You can't turn the ball over five times like that. Holy crap! I don't know who the hell we think we are when we do something like that. Unbelievable."

This opening analysis has been largely lost to the national consciousness, but it is truly riveting, marvelous stuff. Several factors had pushed him to something beyond frustration:

•  Mora came to Indianapolis in 1998, the year the Colts drafted Peyton Manning. After going 3-13 that first season, Indianapolis fashioned the biggest turnaround in league history, going 13-3. The next year it was 10-6. But in 2001, after two straight trips to the playoffs, that loss to the 49ers dropped the Colts to 4-6.

•  Mora reportedly battled behind the scenes with Colts president Bill Polian regarding the defense and the value of some of Mora's assistant coaches.

•  The 49ers' defensive coordinator was Jim Mora Jr., and Mora was embarrassed that his Manning-led offense had committed five turnovers -- four of them interceptions by Manning, one returned for a touchdown.

"We all remember the diddly poo press conference," said Tim Bragg, then a reporter for WRTV. "I always wondered when he would blow up like that in front of the Indianapolis media."

[+] EnlargeJim Mora & Peyton Manning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWhat does Jim Mora regret most about his outburst? That he was so hard on his young quarterback, Peyton Manning.

After a minute or so, Mora took a breath and opened the news conference to questions. Bragg, as it turned out, asked the first, wondering aloud whether Mora thought the Colts would have to win out to make the playoffs.

Mora, who sometimes seems hard of hearing, missed that offering from Bragg, who was seated to the left of the podium.

"What's that?" Mora asked.

Bragg began to repeat the question.

"Jim Mora heard one word," said John Michael Vincent, then of sports radio 1260 WNDE, "and that keyword -- the trigger and the blastoff of this meltdown --was 'playoffs.'"

You know how it went down. Mora, his face contorting in disbelief, responded: "Ah -- playoffs? Don't talk about -- playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game."

Bob Kravitz, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star then and now, checked to make sure his tape recorder battery was working.

"We're so used to the usual nonsense and clichés and guys not saying anything," Kravitz said. "This was just such an emotional, visceral, raw reaction to a loss. I was in a little bit of state of shock."

Bragg, now a physical education teacher and coach at Raymond Park Middle School in Indianapolis, says his identity as the instigator follows him, even 10 years later.

"Men, women, children, even kids I teach that are 12 and 13 years old, they've heard it. They've seen it. They repeat it."

Mora said he doesn't remember who asked the question. To this day, he regrets the outburst, especially throwing Manning, even if he didn't name him, under the bus.

"I've always felt bad about it," said Mora, who knew Manning when Manning was growing up in New Orleans and said he maintains a good relationship with the Colts' quarterback. "I said some things I wish I wouldn't have said publicly about Peyton, because he was a great player for us and he's one of the best of all time."

There is something else Mora wants you to know.

"It wasn't a rant," Mora said, with feeling. "It wasn't a meltdown. I just want to make that clear. It was a simple reaction to what I felt was not a very smart question."

The irony is that the moment has brought him visibility and more than a little quid.

"Oh, yeah," said Mora, who recently vacationed in Egypt. "It's paid some bills."

In some ways, that eight-second sound byte has also washed clean his 41 years in football. He hears it all the time, in restaurants, at social gatherings, walking through malls. He'll sign an autograph, but he doesn't like it when he's asked to add the word "playoffs?" When people offer their inevitable imitations, they often ask him to reprise his famous response. Most of the time, he does not oblige.

Does it bother him that this, not all those victories, will be his legacy?

"Oh, a little bit," Mora said. "A little bit. But I've kind of gotten used to it. That's part of life, you know."

Greg Garber covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.