30 years ago today, the Indianapolis Colts took the field in the Hoosier Dome for the first time ever. No, on the outside it wasn't anything special - it was just another preseason game, just like the one that the team had played in (and lost) the week before. But to 60,236 people in the stadium that day, it was everything.
For so long, people had waited for football in Indianapolis. They built a stadium - the Hoosier Dome - but were still waiting for a team. They were in discussion with the Baltimore Colts, one of the league's premier franchises known for their former quarterback Johnny Unitas - but was a move really going to happen? Hoosiers held their breath and waited.
Then, in March of 1984, Colts' owner Robert Irsay was forced to make a decision - and fast. He made a call to Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut, accepting the city's offer to move his team there. That night, Mayflower Transit moving trucks went to the Colts' complex, loaded up everything, and headed for Indianapolis, Indiana, each truck taking a different route so that Maryland State Police couldn't stop them (an eminent domain law had just been signed that would have allowed the police to stop the move). Once they got to Indiana, Indiana State Police met them and escorted them the rest of the way to Indianapolis. And just like that, Indiana had a real NFL franchise to call their own.
And on August 11, 1984, 30 years ago this very day, the Colts - the Indianapolis Colts - took the field in Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome for the first time ever. Left end Blaise Winter was the first player introduced in the Hoosier Dome.
That day, the Colts would be playing the New York Giants - the same matchup of the famous 1958 NFL Championship game, also known as "the greatest game ever played." And on this day, even though it was just a simple preseason game, Hoosiers felt like it was something of a championship game. They finally had an NFL team in town.
The Colts opened the game by recovering their own kickoff after the Giants' Chet Winters fumbled it away, and the Colts would go on to take the lead on a 34 yard field goal by Paul Allegre. The Giants scored a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead and then looked poised to extend that lead, but the Colts' defense stiffened in the red zone and stopped the Giants' offense.
The Colts scored their first touchdown in the Hoosier Dome (later renamed the RCA Dome) with 42 seconds left in the first half on a one-yard run by George Wonsley. But the Giants quickly kicked a field goal right before halftime to tie it up at 10.
Later in the game, after a 35 minute halftime and with the score tied at 17 with just over 7 minutes left to play, the Colts took the lead on a two-yard run by Frank Middleton. The two teams them both kicked field goals to put the score at 26-20, and Giants' quarterback Phil Simms (who had replaced Jeff Rutledge at halftime) had one last shot to win the game. The Giants recovered an onside kick and moved to the Colts' 34 yard line. On the final play of the game, Simms' heaved a hail mary to the end zone. It fell incomplete.
Colts win! Colts win!
Yeah, it was just a preseason game. So what? NFL football was finally in Indianapolis!
Sure, there were rough times, and even some times where it looked like that might not be the case for much longer. Heck, that first year the team went 4-12. They had only 3 playoff appearances in their first 14 years of being in Indianapolis, and in that time a 2-3 postseason record. There was only 5 winning seasons in 14 years, plus 2 years going 8-8.
But looking back on that day in 1984, it has been a pretty great tenure in Indianapolis. They have been to the playoffs 15 out of their 29 years in Indy. They have had 20 seasons with winning records out of 29, a number that any franchise would be proud of.
We've had the chance to see some great players don the blue and white of the hometown team, the Colts. There was Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, Dwight Freeney, Adam Vinatieri, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Chris Hinton, Ray Donaldson, Rohn Stark, Jim Harbaugh, Dallas Clark, and Gary Brackett, among many others. Some of them are still with the team in Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne.
We've had the chance to see some great moments firsthand in Indianapolis as well. There was the record breaking 49th touchdown pass game, the 2006 AFC Championship game victory over the Patriots, the 2009 AFC Championship game victory over the Jets, Chuck Pagano's return to the sidelines in 2012 against the Texans, and, of course, the Super Bowl that the city of Indianapolis hosted in their new home in the same town, Lucas Oil Stadium (a.k.a. "the House that Peyton Built"). This year, we'll have the chance to see the greatest player in franchise history and one of the best players in NFL history period return to Indianapolis to play (Peyton Manning with the Broncos).
And then undeniably, the shining moment of the Colts tenure in Indianapolis so far came on February 4th, 2007 - not in Indianapolis at all but rather in Miami, Florida. It was there that the Colts, on a rainy night, beat the Chicago Bears and hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It was there that the hard work of owner Jim Irsay (who was 26 years old and entering his first season as team vice president and general manager when the team played their first game in Indy in 1984), general manager Bill Polian (who was 42 years old and two years away from being hired as the general manager of the Buffalo Bills), head coach Tony Dungy (who was 29 years old and entering his first season as Steelers' defensive coordinator) and quarterback Peyton Manning (who was 8 years old and watching his father Archie play his final NFL season) was realized.
Hoisting that Lombardi Trophy was the crowning moment of the first 30 years (ok, technically 29 seasons so far) in Indianapolis. But their success has gone beyond that. They've compiled a 242-221 (.523) regular season record and have won 11 playoff games (with a .44 winning percentage overall), appearing in 4 conference championship games (winning 2). But perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the Colts' now 30 years in Indianapolis is that they have made it a football town. They took the premier basketball state and turned it into a football state.
And it all started 30 years ago today, as 60,236 fans sat in the Hoosier Dome to see their hometown Colts take the field for the first time in Indianapolis, Indiana. Today, 30 years later, the Colts will once again take the field and fans will once again flock to see their hometown Colts in a preseason game. In between, there have been plenty of memories, and with the looks of this Colts team and the leadership they have in place - owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson, head coach Chuck Pagano, and quarterback Andrew Luck - there will likely be many more in the coming years as well.
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Information on the Colts' first game in Indianapolis was obtained here.
Information on the Colts' move to Indianapolis was obtained here.