How to summarize the history of such a storied NFL club as the Indianapolis Colts in this tidy spae?
The origin of the Colts is of course set in Baltimore, but before the Baltimore NFL Colts were the Baltimore Colts of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC). This team began the now-longstanding Colts tradition of starting Hall of Fame franchise quarterbacks as rookies, putting Y.A. Tittle at the helm for the team’s second season of 1948.
The Colts were one of three AAFC seasons to jump to the NFL for the 1950 season along with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, the Colts were incredibly poor in terms of front office work, running up a cumulative record of 11-40-1 in four seasons and folding before ’51.
Thanks to the outstanding fan turnout shown the terrible Baltimore sides of the 1940s, the Colts were reborn as an NFL team in ’53. The hiring of head coach Weeb Ewbank in ’54 finally turned the Colts into a perpetual contender. By ’58, the Colts offense was manned by Johnny Unitas and included Alan Ameche, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry. This team was the winner of the legendary Championship Game of 1958, seen by most sports historians as that with which the NFL captured American’s hearts forever and by many as the greatest game ever played (yes, still).
By the time of the AFL-NFL merger, Don Shula was head coach and he’d lead the team to a half-dozen winning seasons plus one Super Bowl appearance. This was the infamous Super Bowl III, in which the suddenly helpless powerhouse Colts were reduced to helplessness at the hands of a New York Jets team coached by … Weeb Ewbank. Further irony: The year after Shula left Baltimore, the Colts would take the Lombardi Trophy.
Following Super Bowl V, however, the Colts saw little more than lean times and losing seasons well below the .500 mark. Once again were the football fans of Baltimore getting cheaped out by ownership, in this case Jim irsay. Irsay rarely shelled out star-level salaries to any players, yet by the mid-80s was demanding a new stadium via taxpayer funds. With city and state officials going so far as to threaten legal action against Irsay, the Colts owner perpetrated the legendary “Midnight Run” move in which he had two tractor-trailers loaded up with as much Colts infrastructure as they could carry.
Irsay had chosen Indianapolis as the site of the team after flirting with Phoenix officials as well, and Indiana had its second professional sports franchise.
The history of the Colts in the post-Baltimore era is centered on the team which began to take shape in the late 1990s under Jim “Playoffs?!?!?” Mora and blossomed with head coach Tony Dungy. The no. 1 overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft, one Peyton Manning, was installed at QB and Dungy in particular put together perhaps the greatest offensive line of all-time, anchored at center by Jeff Saturday, a top-10 all-timer at the position. In 13 years as a starter, Peyton got the Colts into the playoffs 11 times and into the Super Bowl twice.
After tanking in 2011 and releasing Manning thereafter, the Colts nevertheless looked poised to immediately reestablish their dominance (particularly over the consistently week AFC South division) by drafting Andrew Luck at the no. 1 spot. Unluckily (tee hee), head coach Chuck Pagano and the front office lot did not show the foresight of past Colts brain trusts, and Indianapolis has been execrable on both the offensive line and defensively in general. Here’s to wondering what a Super Bowl-winning OC can do as head coach…
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