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Throwback Thursday: Missed Opportunities

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After looking at the 1950s and the Greatest Game Ever Played last week, Ben Lamers moves ahead a decade and takes a look at the 1960s Colts. It was a decade full of change, wins, and disappointment.

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Last week, Throwback Thursday looked at the Greatest Game Ever Played, and caught a snapshot of the 1950s for the Baltimore Colts. The decade saw the Colts go from expansion to champion in five short years.

I decided to go ahead and make this a short series as we progress through the off-season. Since we focused on the 50s Colts last week, we'll be focusing on (you guessed it) the 60s Colts this week.

The Colts began 1960 as the two-time defending world champion. The Western Conference was getting tougher, though. The conference expanded to seven teams with the expansion Dallas Cowboys joining the fray. And the Green Bay Packers were in their second year with former Giants offensive coordinator, Vince Lombardi.

The 1960 season started out well, with the Colts sitting at 6-2 with only four games to go. Then the wheels fell off. The Colts would lose their remaining four games, dropping them to fourth place in the Western Conference, and nowhere close to the NFL Championship Game.

It wasn't much better for the Colts in 1961. They finished 8-6 in the newly realigned Western Conference. The Cowboys were moved to the Eastern Conference, and the expansion Minnesota Vikings took their place in the West. The league schedule also increased from 12 games to 14 games.

For the entire season, the Colts hovered right around .500, only getting two games above on their final game of the season, a win in San Francisco.

1962 saw more of the same. For the second time in three years, the Colts finished .500 and in fourth place in the Western Conference. This one, arguably worse than in 1960. The Colts never had a win streak longer than two wins, and suffered one of the franchise's worst losses in history by losing 57-0 at home against the Chicago Bears.

Changes were made in the off-season before the 1963 season. Long-time coach Weeb Ewbank was fired and replaced with a former defensive back for the team: Don Shula.

Shula's first season wasn't drastically different from the past three in Baltimore. The Colts finished 8-6, a distant third behind Green Bay and Chicago. However, the team won its final three games, giving fans hope for the 1964 season.

The season did not start out as planned, with an opening day loss in Minnesota. The Colts then reeled off 11 consecutive wins, including a 52-0 defeat of the Bears, en route to a 12-2 record, and the Western Conference crown.

The Colts would meet the Browns in the NFL Championship Game, and slugged their way to a 0-0 halftime score. Then, the Browns left the Colts behind in the second half, scoring 27 unanswered points. The result was a 27-0 Browns victory.

The 1965 season is one of the most legendary seasons in Shula's, and the Colts', history. With three games to play, the Colts were 9-1-1 and in the Western Conference driver's seat. Then, in Week 12, Johnny Unitas was injured in a loss to the Bears. The next week, back-up Gary Cuozzo was knocked out against the Packers.

In a game the Colts needed to win to tie the Packers atop the Western Conference, Shula turned to the team's running back, Tom Matte, to play quarterback. Matte would wear the famous wristband with the Colts' offensive plays on it and, somehow, they would beat the Rams in the final game.

This set up a playoff with Green Bay to see who would advance to the NFL Championship Game. The game became a back-up QB dual between Matte and Zeke Bratkowski, after Bart Starr was injured. The Colts would lose though, in no small part due to a blow field goal call by the refs.

The Colts would blow away the Dallas Cowboys in the Playoff Bowl (aka the Consolation Game) two weeks later.

Another second place finish was in store for the Colts in 1966. They roared out to a 7-2 start, but limped to a 9-5 finish. Again, the Colts would head to the Orange Bowl to play the Playoff Bowl. Again, they would win, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Colts weren't satisfied.

Change hit the NFL again in 1967. The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons became teams, and the Conferences were split into divisions. The Colts would play in the Coastal Division of the Western Conference. This was also the first year that the NFL implemented tie-breakers for the final standings.

The Colts would finish the season an impressive 11-1-2. However, they were left in the cold, as a 0-1-1 record against the LA Rams, who also finished 11-1-2, slid the Colts into second place, ending their season.

The 1968 season was one of the best in Colts history. The team finished 13-1, and was dominant in nearly every statistical category. And they did it all with back-up QB (and league MVP) Earl Morrall. They beat the Vikings in the Divisional Playoffs, and shut out the Browns in the NFL Championship.

The Colts would become the second team to represent the NFL in the Super Bowl, as the Packers were the only team to do so previously. The Colts would face the New York Jets, coached by Ewbank. However, not even the late heroics of Unitas could save the Colts, as they became the first NFL team to lose a Super Bowl to the AFL.

In the 1969, the Colts would suffer from what is now known as a "Super Bowl Hangover." The team finished 8-5-1, and a distant second in the Coastal Division behind the LA Rams. At the end of the season, despite never finishing with a losing record, Shula was fired by the Colts.

Thus ended a decade with sustained success from the Colts, but no World Championships. The team produced three league MVPs (Unitas twice and Morrall once) and a Bert Bell Award winner (Unitas).

Still, the 1960s will most often be remembered by Colts fans as a missed opportunity.