As Pro Football Talk announces their Mount Rushmore for all-time greatest Colts players, we thought it was appropriate and timely to post our list of the Top 50 greatest Colts, ever.
This is a list composed of players from both Indianapolis and Baltimore. Considering the franchise has almost been in Indianapolis (29 years) as it was in Baltimore (31 years), I think we are now at the point where Indianapolis fans need to start embracing and acknowledging the legacy of the old Baltimore Colts.
If you want to know how I came up with this list, here were my criteria:
- Anyone with a number or jersey retired is on the list. Period.
- Franchise leaders in key categories, such as rushing years, interceptions, touchdowns, etc.
- Players who, in my personal opinion, made a positive impact on the franchise. This can sometimes be a good player on a bad team.
- Players who had memorable performances in critical games.
- Players who have played at a high or consistently good level for at least three seasons. So, don't look for Andrew Luck on this list. Gotta do more than have one good season, rookie!
If you see anyone missing from this list, please note that it doesn't mean they "suck." The 60 years that the Colts have been in existence have produced some truly great players. It ended up having 24 players from Indianapolis and 26 from Baltimore.
I hope you enjoy the list.
* Denotes Baltimore Colts players
1) Peyton Manning, QB
Reason: He owns every significant passing stat in franchise history. He started 208 consecutive games before a career-threatening neck injury made him sit out the entire 2011 season. Still, despite spinal fusion surgery and weakened arm strength, Manning returned in 2012 with a new team, a new coach, in a new town... and all he did was put forth an MVP-type performance. Manning is an athlete that has transcended his sport. When people look back on his era, they will view him as the ideal quarterback. He takes a franchise, places it on his shoulders, and instantly turns it into a title contender.
2) John Unitas, QB*
Reason: Unitas entered the NFL in 1956, and when he made his way to Baltimore he wasn't viewed as anything other than a potentially competent back-up. He threw his last pass in 1972, and between '56 and '72, Unitas invented what we refer to today as "modern quarterbacking." Go look and his stats. No, seriously, go look. The man put up numbers that would impress in today's pass-happy league. Unitas played during a time when passing was viewed as a last resort, a tactic for teams too "soft" to run the ball. Timing throws. Rhythm passing. Throwing on first down. That's all Unitas. He threw 287 touchdown passes in his career and gained 14.2 yards-per-completion. The man was a legend. I give Manning the nod over Unitas because of what Manning has achieved throughout his entire career, but when I read morons who place Tom Brady or Joe Montana over Unitas, I want to strangle their pets.
3) Marvin Harrison, WR
Reason: Harrison should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Apologies to anyone who disagrees, but if you don't think he's a first ballot guy, you simply don't know football. He caught 14,580 yards worth of passes. He had 1102 receptions in a 13-year career. He scored 128 touchdowns and averaged (AVERAGED!) 13.2 yards-per-catch. In terms of NFL history, he's No. 6 all-time in receiving yards, No. 3 all-time in receptions, and he holds an NFL record for most catches in a single season (143 in 2002). Outside of Jerry Rice, Harrison is one of the most dominant wide receivers ever. If you disagree, sorry, but you're allowing some sort of bias to interfere with your objectivity. The numbers speak for themselves.
4) Raymond Berry, WR *
Reason: When you read Mark Bowden's book The Greatest Game Ever, you gain a true appreciation for just how magnificent Berry was as a football player. For all the Type-A personality traits that people praise Peyton Manning for, I don't think Manning comes close to Berry. Berry's meticulous attention to detail, his exactness in running every route, is the type of work ethic we, sadly, do not often see anymore in professional sports. Yeah, I know that last sentence sounds a little old fashioned, but it's true. Few players today spend as much time honing their craft as Berry did. The man was obsessive. It's the reason why he is a Hall of Famer.
5) Gino Marchetti, DE *
Reason: Marchetti stuck fear into opposing offenses. He played during a time when sacking the quarterback wasn't tracked as a stat, a football factoid that I still shake my head at. How can such an important play in a game (stopping the quarterback from advancing the ball) not be tracked? Marchetti played his entire 14-year career with the franchise, and was even with them before they moved from Baltimore! He was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times in those 14 years, and First-Team All-Pro team 7 times. The Colts have never had a defensive player as dominant as Marchetti was.
6) John Mackey, TE *
Reason: The greatest tight end in franchise history. Period. Even though he wasn't on the famous 1958 team that won the NFL Championship over the NY Giants at Yankee Stadium, he did play a critical roll for Don Shula's Colts during the Super Bowl era. In the 1968 season, the year Baltimore won its only Super Bowl with the Colts, Mackey had 45 catches for 644 yards and 5 touchdowns. From 1965 to 1970, Mackey had 224 receptions for 3,851 yards and 28 touchdowns. For a tight end at that period, those numbers are insane! Quite simply, he redefined the tight end position.
7) Reggie Wayne, WR
Reason: For much of his career, Wayne is seen as the "other wide receiver" opposite Marvin Harrison. However, since Harrison's retirement, Wayne has steadily redefined himself. His 106 catches for 1,355 yards and 5 touchdowns for the 2012 season separated him from Harrison's shadow, somewhat. Wayne's numbers don't compare to Harrison's, but what Wayne has done much more consistently than his former teammate is deliver big-time performances in playoff games. He had 10 catches for 221 yards and 2 TDs against the Broncos in 2004 and a 53-yard TD against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. When his career is over, Wayne's numbers might rival Harrison's. For now, he's still not as good, but he's absolutely one of the Top 10 all-time Colts ever.
8) Edgerrin James, RB
Reason: James leads the franchise in rushing (9226 yards), touchdowns (62), and yards-per-game (96.1). He's the No. 11 all-time leading rusher in NFL history with 12,246 yards, just behind another former Colt, Marshall Faulk. However, unlike the perpetually whiny Faulk and the team-killing nuance that was Eric Dickerson, James was the ultimate team player. Yet, he still maintained a fun, unique persona that many described as "Edge being Edge." It was hard not to like him. His presence alone made a team better. Factor in his talent, his toughness, and his work ethic (few backs have ever dedicated themselves to the game as Edgerrin did), and he was a franchise-defining running back.
9) Dwight Freeney, DE
Reason: When Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden poses for his bust in Canton this summer, I'm going to laugh. Yes, Ogden absolutely deserved his gold jacket and his place in NFL history. However, this is the same Jonathan Ogden that Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney used to eat for lunch on a consistent basis whenenver the Ravens and Colts played. And it wasn't just Ogden. Seahawks great Walter Jones was also made to look foolish at Freeney's expense. No. 93 for the Colts had a way of doing that. His spin move will always be considered his signature play. In 11 seasons, he's compiled 107.5 sacks and forced 43 fumbles.
10) Lenny Moore, RB *
Reason: For whatever reason, Moore seems to be a forgotten Colts great for many of my generation. The man was a 7-time Pro Bowler and a 5-time First-Team All-Pro. In the championship season of 1958, Moore averaged 7.3 yards-per-carry. In fact, he averaged over 7 yards-a-carry three times in his brilliant career (1956, 1958, and 1961). He also scored 63 rushing touchdowns and 48 receiving touchdowns in his 12-year career, all with the Colts. No back has scored more in franchise history than Mr. Lenny Moore. Never forget his name or his accomplishments. That man was an absolute stud.
11) Robert Mathis, DE
12) Art Donovan, OG *
13) Jim Parker, FB *
14) Jeff Saturday, OC
15) Bert Jones, QB *
16) Jim Harbaugh, QB
17) Alan Ameche, RB *
18) Adam Vinatieri, K
19) Tarik Glenn, OT
20) Gary Brackett, LB
21) Chris Hinton, OG
22) Bob Sanders, SS
23) Mike Curtis, LB-FB *
24) Bobby Vogel, OT *
25) Dallas Clark, TE
26) Ray Donaldson, OC
27) Rohn Stark, P
28) Mike Barnes, DE *
29) Gene Lipscomb, DT *
30) Bubba Smith, DE *
31) Bobby Boyd, DB *
32) Marshall Faulk, RB
33) Buddy Young, FB *
34) John Dutton, DT-DE *
35) Clarence Verdin, KR
36) Mike Vanderjagt, K
37) Rick Volk, DB *
38) George Konze, OT *
39) Bert Rechichar, DB, LB, RB *
40) Eric Dickerson, RB
49) Tom Matte, RB *
50) Dominic Rhodes, RB