The Indianapolis Colts haven’t exactly had the best NFL history especially after their move to the City of Indianapolis. In the thirteen years the team was in Indy before drafting Peyton Manning in 1998, the Colts had 17 different starting quarterbacks and seven head coaches. They also averaged 6 wins a year in that span. After Manning came in, the Colts were a completely different franchise.
For the better part of two decades, the Colts have been one of the most competitive franchises in pro football. Since 1998, they have made 14 postseason appearances including nine consecutive appearances from 2002 to 2010. In all those years of success, a lot of great moments have happened to the franchise along with a few bright spots in the years before.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the top moments in Indianapolis Colts history.
*Note: This list is strictly about the teams time in the city of Indianapolis.
• Jim Harbaugh leads Colts to AFC Championship in 1995
• Opening of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008
• Chuck Pagano returns to the sidelines after battling Leukemia in 2012
• Colts win Manning vs. Luck matchup in 2013
10. The Colts Move to Indianapolis Overnight From Baltimore
One of the worst nights for the city of Baltimore ended up being one of the best for Indianapolis. It’s still a sore spot for many in Baltimore despite currently having the Ravens but Robert Irsay’s sudden and unexpected move to Indianapolis was a bright turn for the city.
After months of lengthy discussions between the Orioles and the Colts to build a new stadium in Baltimore, neither one was willing to commit to a long-term plan and it forced the city’s hand. The Maryland legislature attempted to gain ownership of the team from Irsay via eminent domain. As a result, Irsay was forced to act quickly.
After agreeing to a loan from Indianapolis along with a training complex and new stadium, Irsay sent moving trucks to the facility in Baltimore at 2 a.m. in the morning and eight hours later, any evidence of the Colts was gone from Baltimore.
Was it slimy? Probably. Unfair to the city of Baltimore? Undoubtedly. Was it one of the best moments for Indianapolis in terms of sports? Definitely.
From this moment on, the Colts logo would be correlative with the city of Indianapolis for decades to come, second only to the Indy 500. How can you possibly leave the start of the franchise in a new city off the list?
9. The Colts Defeat The Packers After Chuck Pagano Takes A Leave Of Absence
The Peyton Manning exit from Indianapolis is worthy of a 30 for 30. The greatest athlete the city has ever known had a somewhat amicable split with the team. Not ugly but it still was a very tense environment throughout the whole process.
Not only did Manning’s first year out of Indianapolis have a constant nervous feeling of successor Andrew Luck working out but the news broke in week five that rookie head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia. The diagnosis forced Pagano to leave the team not even halfway through his first season. It sent a team already dealing with a massive amount of uncertainty into totally undiscovered territory in NFL history and that’s saying something.
To Indy’s credit, they handled it incredibly well. Receiver Reggie Wayne defied the NFL’s overly-strict uniform policies and wore orange gloves and cleats, orange being the color of awareness for Leukemia, along with the cheerleaders shaving their heads in solidarity with Pagano.
How can you possibly beat that? How about a 21-3 comeback against a team led by one of the best quarterbacks this league has ever seen. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers crumbled in the second half and Reggie Wayne caught the go-ahead touchdown with 40 seconds left. Wayne finished the game with 13 receptions and 212 yards in a game for the ages.
8. Trading For Eric Dickerson
One of the few bright spots for the Colts in the pre-Manning era was trading for superstar running back Eric Dickerson in 1988. In only nine games, Dickerson rushed for 1,011 yards and would go on to place fourth for the Colts in all-time rushing yards.
Dickerson only played one full season with the Colts in his five years with the team but accumulated over 1,000 yards in every season but one and averaged over 4 yards per carry in. Trading for Dickerson gave the Colts a dynamic playmaker that the franchise usually lacked in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
7. Monday Night Miracle
When you ask most football fans what comes to mind when you say, “Monday Night Miracle,” they will say the 2000 game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. If you ask a Colts fan what comes to mind, every single one will instantly think back to the Colts vs. Buccaneers Monday night game in 2003.
Ronde Barber took back an interception off Peyton Manning for six with five minutes left in the game to put the Bucs ahead 35-14. Indianapolis returned the ensuing kickoff for 90 yards and would score a few plays later on fourth down. After recovering an onside kick, Manning connected with Marvin Harrison on yet another fourth down play to put the Colts within a touchdown of a tie.
After Indy’s defense held up, Manning led the team to score the tying touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game. The game was sent into overtime and kicker Mike Vanderjagt won the game for Indianapolis on a 29-yard kick in overtime.
At the time, it tied the team record for the largest comeback and would go on to become a huge bullet point in Manning’s storied career.
6. Drafting Andrew Luck
This might’ve been the luckiest the Colts have ever been. After Peyton Manning missed the entirety of the 2011 season due to neck surgery, the Colts stumbled to a 2-14 record. It marked the end of an era for the Colts. Vice chairman Bill Polian, who was with the team for 13 years, was fired along with head coach Jim Caldwell. Manning was released that March as well. The Colts were in full rebuilding mode.
Luckily for the team, if they were to start rebuilding any year, 2012 was the year to do it. The Colts selected Stanford phenom Andrew Luck with the first pick and almost instantly they were back in contention for the playoffs. A rebuilding process that didn’t even last an entire year thanks to one player is one of the rarest things to happen in the NFL.
In Luck’s first year, the Colts went 11-5 and made the playoffs as a wild card. Indianapolis would visit the postseason the next two years, solidifying Luck’s position as the Colts’ new team leader. The only reason this move isn’t higher on the list is because, despite making the playoffs so often, Luck hasn’t shown he elevates a weak team to Super Bowl contenders in the way Peyton Manning did. It’s a high bar but one he has to meet to be on the same level as Manning.
5. Colts Defeat The Patriots In The 2006 AFC Championship Game
One of the best rivalries in the NFL during the 21st century is undoubtedly the Patriots and Colts. The heralded success that is first overall pick Peyton Manning against the ultimate underdog story in sixth round pick Tom Brady saw some of the best games football had to offer. Since 2000, the Patriots had defeated the Colts seven out of the 11 meetings including two postseason losses.
All eyes were on the 2006 AFC Championship Game with the 12-4 Colts facing the 12-4 Patriots in Indianapolis. Everyone was asking if it would ever be possible for Manning to overcome the giant hurdle that was New England to reach his first ever Super Bowl, the one thing missing from his resume.
The Colts were down 21-6 at halftime (sound familiar?) and it was looking like it would be yet another Super Bowl trip for the Patriots. The Colts managed to tie the game at 21 after a Manning rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown the following offensive possession. With a minute left, the Colts went ahead 38-34. The feeling in the building could only be summed up as, “Dear God please don’t let Tom Brady do what he does best.”
What followed was one of, if not the, most iconic broadcast calls in Colts history. After Brady drove the Pats to the Colts’ 45-yard line, corner Marlin Jackson picked off Brady’s pass to seal the victory and send the Colts to the first Super Bowl in Indianapolis history. Bob Lamey summed it up best:
“Brady out of the shotgun again, this crowd roaring, takes the snap, sets up, sets up, throws one…interception Marlin Jackson! Marlin’s got it! We’re going to the Super Bowl! We’re going to the Super Bowl!”
4. Manning And Harrison Break Steve Young’s And Jerry Rice’s Record
Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison made for one of the best and dependable quarterback-receiver duos in NFL history and they solidified that in 2005. During a Monday night game in week five, Manning threw a six-yard touchdown to Harrison, the eighty-sixth between the two. It broke a record that had previously been set by Steve Young and Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest receiver of all time and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks as well.
The most iconic image from this moment was Harrison and Manning both refusing to take the ball as a souvenir, wanting the other to have it. Ultimately they decided to split it. Literally. They split the football in half and each got a piece.
If that’s not the most Peyton Manning thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t what is.
3. Peyton Manning Breaks Dan Marino’s Record
While Manning breaking Young’s record with Harrison is without a doubt one of the top moments in his career, nothing can top what Manning achieved in 2004. On his way to his second MVP award, Manning broke a record that most thought would stand the test of time.
In the second-to-last game of the season against the Chargers, Manning stepped back out of the shotgun and threw a bullet to Brandon Stokley for his 49th touchdown of the season. It broke a record that Dan Marino set 20 years prior.
It was a moment that marked Manning’s status as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Rival Tom Brady would go on to break the record with 50 touchdowns in 2007 but Manning would reclaim the crown in 2013 with the Broncos by passing for 55 touchdowns.
2. Drafting Peyton Manning
In case you haven’t noticed, nearly all of the moments on this list have one thing in common: Peyton Manning. He is the definition of a once-in-the-generation player and arguably the greatest quarterback this league has ever seen.
So drafting such a player has to be near the top of the list. Bill Polian made one of the gutsiest calls in draft history by taking Manning over equally heralded Ryan Leaf. It was a move that was seen at the time as a boom-or-bust pick that could end Polian’s career before it began. What happened afterward defined the franchise.
Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to 12 years of relevance, the likes of which the franchise had never seen before. The Manning Era made the Colts one of the most recognizable brands in the nation which is no small task given the small market that is Indianapolis. If it had not been for Manning, the Colts would not currently be competing for the Indy 500 for what Indianapolis is best known as.
There’s a reason Lucas Oil Stadium is known as “The House Manning Built”. Drafting Manning is without a doubt the best managerial decision in Indianapolis Colts history.
1. Winning Super Bowl XLI
Was there any real doubt what would end up being at the top of the list? The ultimate goal of the game is to win a Super Bowl and that is exactly what the Colts did in 2007. The Bears had gone 13-3 and were widely considered the favorite to win the game.
That notion didn’t go away when the most dynamic returner the game has ever seen in Devin Hester took the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. The first and only time that achievement has been done in Super Bowl history. After scoring another touchdown, the Bears were up 14-6 but Manning took control after that.
The Colts would go on to score 16 unanswered points and allowed just a field goal by the Bears in the second half. The Colts would go on to win the Super Bowl 29-17 and achieve what is undoubtedly the greatest accomplishment in Indianapolis Colts history.
It solidified Manning’s place in the pantheon of all-time NFL quarterbacks as he finally cleared the last remaining hurdle of his career. The fact that he broke Marino’s record the previous year and then won the game he never did a year later thrust Manning in the discussion for best ever. It was without a doubt the greatest moment in Indianapolis Colts’ history and the image of Manning lifting the Lombardi will forever be ingrained in Indy sports history.