INDIANAPOLIS – There were boxes to be unpacked and items to be sorted through and stowed in his North Carolina home Saturday afternoon, but what was transpiring on the television screen kept tugging at Frank Reich.
The NFL record – his NFL record – was in serious jeopardy.
The Indianapolis Colts – his Indianapolis Colts until he was fired Nov. 7 – were seeing their 33-0 halftime lead against the Minnesota Vikings evaporate: 36-7, 36-14, 36-21, 36-28 . . .
Reich had casually flipped on the start of the game, but it was more of a diversion. Until it became something more.
“I hadn’t been tracking the score,’’ he said Monday afternoon. “The first time I really noticed it, it was 33-to-nothing.’’
He kept flittering around the house.
“I walked by (the TV) one time and was like, ‘Oh, man. Wow, what’s happening here?’’’ Reich said. “Then I sat down and watched the end of it.’’
The end of it was the Vikings mounting the greatest comeback in NFL history. They won 39-36 in overtime.
The previous record: Reich directing the Buffalo Bills to a 41-38 overtime win over the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs after trailing 35-3.
What’s interesting was Reich’s reaction when he noticed his former team with a 33-0 stranglehold on the Vikings.
It wasn’t ‘‘Well, this one’s over.’’
“Over the last 30 years, every time an NFL team gets up by more than 32 points, I take note,’’ Reich said with a laugh. “It’s the first thing that goes through my mind: ‘Oh, they’re up by 33. If (the opponent) comes back and wins – which they aren’t going to do – they break the record.’’’
In the 102-year history of the NFL, teams with a 30-plus point lead were 1,548-1-1. Now, they’re 1,548-2-1.
“At this stage of my career, there wasn’t much of me saying, ‘Oh, don’t break the record,’’’ he said. “I was just kind of watching with no strong feelings one way or the other.
“It’s obviously against a lot of guys I know and love and care about very deeply. That was a weird dynamic. But it had nothing to do with it was against the Colts and the team that fired me. That was not in play.’’
What mattered was the torch being passed to the appropriate quarterback: Kirk Cousins.
For three decades, Reich has used his NFL platform – obviously boosted by the Greatest Comeback experience as well as his assistant coach/head coach stints – to share his deep faith and life lessons.
“I always said if the record was going to be broken, it wasn’t that it was against somebody,’’ Reich said. “What meant something to me was Kirk has a strong faith-based background. That was meaningful to me.’’
As soon as the game ended, Reich punched out a text to Cousins.
Kirk, for 30 years, that moment has given me an opportunity to share many things about football and life, tell people about my faith, and now the torch has been passed to you.
Cousins told NBC’s Peter King it was “a powerful text. I already had a great deal of respect for Frank, but after that text it went through the roof. I took what he said seriously.’’
“For 30 years, I’ve been able to use that platform for good to give back,’’ Reich said. “For the torch to be passed to another quarterback who has the same kind of faith-based background, that was pretty meaningful to me.’’
In the blink of an eye, a special niche in Reich’s NFL resume had been erased. He also held the distinction of directing the largest comeback in NCAA history – his Maryland Terrapins trailed Miami 31-0, then roared back for a 42-40 win in 1984 – and that held up for more than two decades before being topped.
For so long, the comebacks served as part of his introduction for a speaking engagement.
“I did a lot of speaking and it would be, ‘Our speak today, Frank Reich, led the greatest comeback in college football history and led the greatest comeback in NFL history,’’’ Reich said. “Of course, I always had to remind them those were team records, not individual records.
“I would tell them, ‘I do hold an individual record and as your speaker today, I’m a little hurt you didn’t mention that record.’’’
Four weeks after engineering the Bills’ epic comeback, Reich was part of Buffalo’s 52-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII. He fumbled three times, losing two.
The three fumbles remain the most in a Super Bowl, a mark he shares with Buffalo teammate Jim Kelly (Super Bowl XXVI) and Dallas’ Roger Staubach (Super Bowl X).
The disparate situations have been an inspirational bullet point in Reich’s messages.
“For 30 years, that’s been my intro,’’ he said. “And that’s been my line. That’s real life. That’s the highs and the lows. Everybody can have a comeback in life, but I always felt it was the comeback and the Super Bowl.
“Within a month of each other, going from the high of highs to the lowest of the lows and how you deal with that.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.