The word I used to describe the 70s in last week's Throwback Thursday was "change." The word could apply to the 1980s for the Colts franchise as well.
This decade saw plenty of low moments and disappointment, but also saw some great moments in franchise history as well. Let's jump right in.
In 1980, Head Coach Mike McCormack wasn't able to deviate from the disappointment that the end of the 1970s had brought. The team finished 7-9, and lost its final three games of the season. That record slotted the Colts fourth in the AFC East, only ahead of the New York Jets.
Unfortunately, the 1981 season was worse. The Colts started out of the gates strong, defeating division rival New England. The team proceeded to lose the next 14 straight games before defeating the Patriots, again, in the final game of the season.
The defense in 1981 was historic, though. Historically bad. The team surrendered the most yardage per game in NFL history (until the Saints broke that record in 2012), and still holds the record for most yards given up per pass. A whopping 8.19 yards per drop-back!!
In 11 of the Colts' losses, they never held the lead, also an NFL record.
My favorite story from the season (and maybe a feature for Throwback Thursday someday) comes from a loss to the Eagles. In the game, Owner Robert Irsay took it upon himself to call the plays during the game. Quarterback Bert Jones later had this to say about it (according to Phillip B. Wilson in his book "100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"):
"[Irsay] couldn't have told you how many players there were on the field, never mind what plays we had. All he was trying to do was embarrass the coaches and the players. When he told me to run, I threw. When he told me to throw left, I ran right."
The 2-14 campaign didn't even garner the Colts the draft's top pick. That honor belonged to the Patriots. However, the Colts did have picks two and four in the 1982 draft. A great opportunity to begin rebuilding the team.
Or so it should have been.
With the second pick, the Colts drafted Johnie Cooks, who was a solid player, but never elite. With the fourth pick, the Colts took Art Schlichter. We all know how that turned out. Two of the players the Colts passed on? Marcus Allen and Andre Tippett.
After the disastrous 1981 season, the Colts fired McCormick and hired Frank Kush as coach. Yet, somehow, the 1982 campaign was worse.
In a strike-shortened season, the Colts finished an abysmal 0-8-1, the tie coming against the (playoff bound) Packers. Fun fact: in 1982, the Packers played four games in Wisconsin, but only one in Lambeau Field.
Anyway. The season was historically bad, and the Colts had the inside track to the top overall pick. Much like in 1998 and 2012, the top pick was a once in a generation player. Known as the "Golden Boy," Stanford quarterback John Elway was entering the draft. The Colts would finally have a legitimate quarterback for the first time since John Unitas.
Only, it didn't work out that way.
Elway refused to play for Baltimore, and was subsequently dealt to the Denver Broncos. To add insult to injury, the Colts played the Broncos twice in 1983, and lost both times, including a performance where the Colts blew a 19-0 fourth quarter lead.
The rest of the season wasn't much better. The Colts again finished 7-9, which was again good enough for fourth in the division.
The team's final game, and win, of the season took place at home against the Houston Oilers. A mere 20,000 fans came out to watch what ended up becoming the final home game for the Baltimore Colts.
Then in the 1984 season, the Indianapolis Colts made their debut. It wasn't a good one.
They finished 4-12, but did pick up two wins in their new home, the Hoosier Dome. Their 4-12 record again was good enough for fourth place in the AFC East.
Heading into the 1985 season, the Colts fired Kush and hired their third different head coach this decade in Rod Dowhower.
Unfortunately, a new coach didn't erase old problems. The Colts went 5-11, which included a six game losing streak, and finished fourth (again) in the AFC East.
The 1986 season got off to quite the start, in a bad way. The Colts lost their first 13 games, and Dowhower was fired. He was replaced by Ron Meyer, who stepping in and led the Colts to wins in their final three games.
The 1987 season, however, was a different story altogether. The season was again shortened by a player strike, this time only by one game. Through the first six games of the season, the Colts sat at 3-3 and needed something to give the team a spark.
Rumors began to swirl that Los Angeles All-Pro Running Back Eric Dickerson could be available. The Colts pounced. In what amounted to one of the largest trades in NFL history, the Colts brought Dickerson to Indianapolis.
The result catapulted the Colts to a 6-3 record down the stretch, giving them a 9-6 overall record and first place in the AFC East. Indianapolis had a winner, and more importantly, it had a playoff team.
Unfortunately, the Colts went one-and-done in the playoffs, losing 38-21 to the Cleveland Browns.
The 1988 season brought with it high expectations. However, the start of the season was far from what the fans, and team, must have expected. The Colts went 1-5 to begin the campaign. Then, the Colts flipped the switch, going 8-2 the rest of the way to finish 9-7 and second in the AFC East.
However, the 9-7 mark did not qualify the Colts for the playoffs.
The 1989 season saw the team's record dip slightly again. The Colts would finish 8-8, and again place second in the East. Again, they didn't make the playoffs.
The 1980s saw the Colts go from doormat to respectable. From a team that elite's didn't want to play (Elway) to a team that could acquire top talent (Dickerson). And, of course, it saw the Colts go from Baltimore to Indianapolis.