The Indianapolis Colts have boasted some of the NFL’s greatest all-time greatest offensive players which have helped the team to win two Super Bowls throughout its 68-year history. Here are the five biggest legends, taking into account the franchise’s time in Baltimore as well.
5. Marvin Harrison, wide receiver
Harrison was the 19th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft out of Syracuse. He was a good player for the first three years of his career, but really took off once quarterback Peyton Manning made his first Pro Bowl in 1999. From then until 2007, Harrison had an eight-season stretch where he hauled in 80 or more passes for 1,000 or more yards, including four consecutive seasons with 100 or more grabs.
Harrison currently ranks fifth in all-time receptions with 1,102, 953 of which he caught from Manning, which is the most for a QB/WR duo in history. He set the NFL record for receptions in a season with 143 in 2002, a mark that stood until this past season, when the New Orleans Saints Michael Thomas topped it by one catch. Harrison played his entire 13-year career in Indy, and that, along with his 128 touchdowns, gives him the nod on this list over fellow wideout Reggie Wayne.
4. Tony Dungy, head coach
Dungy won 54 games in six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that was nothing compared to what he did in Indianapolis. In seven years with the team, he went an astounding 85-27, never had a losing season, and his worst year, 2002 (his first with the Colts), he went 10-6.
Dungy led Indy to playoff appearances each season, and won the Super Bowl in 2006. Having one of the best QBs in NFL history certainly made Dungy’s job easier, but as we’ve seen with teams like the Green Bay Packers, having a great QB isn’t a guaranteed ticket to the playoffs. Dungy’s strategy and leadership made him a legend, and one of the game’s most respected coaches.
3. Robert Mathis, EDGE
Dwight Freeney and Mathis were one of the NFL’s most terrorizing EDGE duos, but Mathis is on this list over Freeney for a few reasons. First, he spent his entire 14-year career in Indy, and collected a total of 123 sacks, the most in team history. Freeney played 11 years for the Colts, before moving on to the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Seattle Seahawks from 2013-2017. Freeney’s ceiling may have been higher, but Mathis was more consistent over a longer period of time. He ranks 19th in NFL history in sacks, just 2.5 behind Freeney.
2. Johnny Unitas, quarterback
One of the all-time great QBs, Unitas began his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers; he wasn’t given a fair shot to make the team, was signed after attending a Colts tryout (that wasn’t intended for him), and the rest is history. Unitas spent 17 of his 18 seasons in Baltimore, going 117-60-4 as a starter, throwing for 39,768 yards and 287 touchdowns, winning three NFL Championships, and one Super Bowl. He threw a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games, a mark that stood for 52 years until 2012, when Drew Brees passed it up.
Unitas’s metaphorical trophy case is impressive to say the least: 10 Pro Bowls, five First Team All-Pros, three Second Team All-Pros, and three MVPs. There is a very good argument to be made that he’s the greatest Colt of all time, but today, that honor goes to another signal-caller.
1. Peyton Manning, quarterback
If it isn’t Unitas, it’s Manning. Drafted first overall in 1998 (in a close race over Ryan Leaf – Indy dodged a major bullet there), Manning has lived up to every bit of hype, and there was plenty of it. If you’re looking for the best pure passer in NFL history, Manning may be your guy. He won “only” two Super Bowls during his 17 years in the league, so he loses out to Tom Brady (among others) in the greatest of all time discussion, but at his peak, Manning was a better QB than Brady.
After a neck injury cost him the entire 2011 campaign (the first time he had missed in his NFL career to that point), Manning and the Colts went through a sad but love-filled break-up, and he signed with the Denver Broncos, where he then set the single-season passing yards and TD records and won another Super Bowl. But even if that had never happened, Manning would have still been a first-ballot Hall of Famer (he is eligible in 2021).
With the Colts, Manning made 11 Pro Bowls, was named First Team All-Pro five times, Second Team All-Pro three times, won four MVPs, and led Indianapolis to Victory in Super Bowl XLI. He was everything a franchise QB is supposed to be, and more.