Two weeks ago, Throwback Thursday reviewed the Colts of the 1960s. After a hiatus last week (brought on by the fact that I had to make the 6 hour drive to Chicago) we'll be picking it back up and looking at the 1970s this week.
The 70s were a decade that started with massive change in the NFL. That change being that the AFL and NFL merged, and now two conferences, the AFC and NFC, made up the NFL. This change was spurred in no small part due to the Jets and Chiefs victories in Super Bowls III and IV, respectively.
The Colts, Browns, and Steelers all made the jump from the NFL to the newly formed AFC. The Colts would be playing in the AFC East alongside the Boston Patriots, Miami Dolphins (now coached by Don Shula), Buffalo Bills, and the New York Jets.
As I just alluded to, Shula was fired as the Colts head coach at the conclusion of the 1969 season, and was replaced by Don McCafferty.
The season got off to an auspicious start after a narrow win over the San Diego Chargers, followed by a blowout loss at home to the defending champion Chiefs.
After that, the Colts rolled to an 11-2-1 record and a playoff berth, the season included two wins over the Jets, and a 35-0 win over the Dolphins in Shula's return to Baltimore.
In the playoffs, the Colts blanked the Bengals, giving up only 139 yards (sounds like something Stampede Blue wrote about this year), and easily defeated the Raiders in the Championship round.
This gave the team the right to return to the Orange Bowl, this time to face the Dallas Cowboys. Turnovers were the word of the game. In what is widely regarded as the sloppiest Super Bowl ever, the Colts and Cowboys combined for 11 turnovers (seven by the Colts). Baltimore would win on a Jim O'Brien field goal as time expired.
Despite being a poorly played game, this Super Bowl had a few firsts. One being that it was the first AFC-NFC Super Bowl, the Colts also became the first (and only) team to reach a Super Bowl as an NFL and AFC team, and it was the only Super Bowl where a losing player (Chuck Howley) was named MVP.
1971 again saw the Colts reach the playoffs, this time with a 10-4 record. The Colts four losses were by a combined 15 points.
In the playoffs, the Colts steamrolled the Browns 20-3 to advance to the Championship Game. Here, though, they suffer another crushing loss in the Orange Bowl, this time a 21-0 defeat at the hands of Shula's Dolphins. A win would have set up the first ever Super Bowl rematch, with the Colts again facing the Cowboys.
The next year, 1972 brought more change. Carroll Rosenbloom traded the Colts franchise for the LA Rams franchise. The trade was made with one Robert Irsay, who became owner of the Colts.
The season, though, was a challenge. The Colts were shut out three times (twice against Miami), and John Unitas made his final start as a Colt. The team finished 5-9 and missed the playoffs.
In the off-season, the Colts would trade Unitas to the Chargers, where he would play one season before retiring. The Colts season, though, was worse than the prior year. In 1973, the Colts managed four wins, and finished dead last in the AFC East.
The 1974 season got worse. Coach Howard Schnellenberger was fired after a 0-3 start, and replaced by GM Joe Thomas. The Colts would win only two games, and again finished dead last in the East.
Heading into 1975, Thomas hired Ted Marchibroda as the head coach. Marchibroda ushered in one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. Led by Bert Jones, the Colts went 1-4 out of the gate, but won 9 straight to finish the season. The team was 10-4, their first winning record post-Unitas, and first in the AFC East.
However, in the playoffs, the Colts went one and done, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Steelers.
Also of note, on Marchibroda's staff, the Colts had a raw 23-year-old assistant, one Bill Belichick.
1976 almost began with the worst start possible. In a feud with Thomas, Marchibroda resigned before the start of the season, with assistant coaches, and Jones all on the coach's side. Irsay stepped in, though, and was able to make peace with Marchibroda, who ended up staying on as coach.
The regular season was even better for the Colts than the year before. Jones was named MVP, and the team went 11-3, again winning the East.
However, in the playoffs, the Colts again went one and done against Pittsburgh, this time in a 40-14 home loss.
Before the 1977 season, Thomas was fired as GM of the Colts and Dick Szymanski took over, with Marchibroda still on as coach.
The Colts gunned out to a 9-1 start, before dropping three of their final four games. Still, at 10-4 the Colts again won the East and were headed to the playoffs.
In what is clearly a theme through Colts history, though, the team again went one and done in the playoffs. This time it was the Raiders downing the Colts in double overtime. Most remember this game for the famous (infamous if you're a Colts fan) Ghost to the Post play.
The 1977 season would mark the final time the Colts reached the playoffs while based in Baltimore.
The 1978 campaign could not have gotten off to a worse start. The Colts lost 38-0 in Dallas to open the season, and followed that up with a 42-0 home loss to the Dolphins.
In Week 3, the Colts were a 17.5 point underdog against the Patriots, but ended up winning the game! In this game, the Colts' Joe Washington became the first NFL player to throw, catch, and return a kick for a score in the same game.
Unfortunately, that Week 3 tilt was the high point in the season. The Colts finished 5-11, and lost their final six games.
This brings us to the final year of the decade: 1979. The Colts started right where they left off in 1978, by losing five straight to open the season. The team ended up finishing 5-11 again, and last place in the East yet again.
The 1970s started on the highest of highs with a Super Bowl win, but ended with many lows. The team went through three head coaches and numerous starting quarterbacks in the decade.
While I used the word "change" to describe the 1970s Colts and there was plenty of it, much greater change was in store for the franchise in the 1980s.