Last week, Throwback Thursday looked at the 1980s in Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts history. The Colts went from a poor team in the early 80s located in Baltimore, to a poor team located in Indianapolis. That all changed when the team traded for Eric Dickerson, and reached the playoffs.
However, that was followed by more disappointment in the final seasons of the 80s. And that is where we pick up the story now. In the decade which probably features the biggest roller coaster ride of any Colts decade. The 1990s.
The Colts began the decade with the first overall pick. Wait, what? The Colts finished 8-8 in 1989. Well, since (and many of you accurately noted) the Colts didn't have a competent QB in the last 80s the Colts would deal a first round pick (in 1991), a fifth (in 1990), receiver Andre Rison, and tackle Chris Hinton (whom they had acquired in the John Elway trade) to the Falcons in order to move up to the top spot.
With that pick, the Colts took the hometown quarterback with the rocket arm: Jeff George.
At the start of the season, things were mostly the same in Indianapolis. Ron Meyer was still the coach, and the team limped out to a 0-3 start, including a loss to the eventual 1-15 Patriots. They would eventually rebound to finish 7-9 and third in the AFC East.
But things looked bright for the Colts. They should have been able to improve upon their 7-9 campaign in George's second season.
That didn't happen.
The Colts 1991 season saw them become the third team in three years to finish 1-15 (the 89 Cowboys and 90 Patriots were the predecessors).
Meyer was fired halfway through the season, and the Colts notched their only win in New York against the Jets by one point.
With the first (and second) overall pick in their pocket for the second time in three years, the Colts headed to the draft.
The team went defense with the top two picks. First overall they took one of the most dominant college lineman of all-time in Steve Emtman. With the second pick, the Colts went with Quentin Coryatt, a linebacker from Texas A&M. Both Emtman and Coryatt were out of the league before 2000.
In the 1992 season, under Ted Marchibroda (again), the Colts were outscored by nearly 90 points on the season, and finished with the lowest rushing output of any team in the decade.
The 1993 season brought the Colts back down to Earth. After the surprising 1992 campaign, the Colts returned to their losing form, finishing 4-12 and in the basement of the East yet again.
In the 1994 draft, the Colts went after Marshall Faulk, who would lead the Colts to a blowout victory in the opening game, and eventually win rookie of the year. With a play maker back in tow, the Colts again improved greatly, doubling their win total and finishing 8-8.
This, of course, brings us to the 1995 season. The Colts upped their win total to 9-7 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1987. They were led by Captain Comeback and the Comeback Player of the Year: Jim Harbaugh.
The Colts knocked out the defending AFC Champion Chargers, and then the Chiefs, the team with the best record in football. However, the dream fell just short and the Colts were bounced by the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
Still, it was a season to remember for all Colts fans. It was also Marchibroda's final season on the Colts' sideline, as he left to become head coach of the Ravens for the 1996 season.
In the off-season, the Colts replaced Marchibroda with Lindy Infante. I always find it interesting that Infante was the coach in Green Bay before Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren arrived, and was the coach in Indianapolis before Peyton Manning and Jim Mora arrived.
The Colts also drafted Marvin Harrison in the 1996 draft.
In 1996, the Colts again went 9-7, including a win over the expansion (sort of) Ravens. For the first time since the late 1970s, the Colts made the playoffs in back to back years. Unfortunately, they were again bounced in Pittsburgh. This time in the Wild Card round, and in a blowout.
The 1997 season saw the Colts take a large step back. The team started the season 0-10, before notching a shocking Week 12 win over the defending champion Green Bay Packers (a great day for those of us living in Wisconsin). The Packers remain one of three teams to never win in Indianapolis (Minnesota and Houston are the other two).
The 1998 off-season saw plenty of change. The Colts fired Infante and Bill Tobin, and replaced them with Jim Mora and Bill Polian (respectively). The Colts also had the first overall pick in the draft, for the third time this decade.
Polian and owner Jim Irsay had to make the decision between drafting Tennessee QB Peyton Manning, or Washington State QB Ryan Leaf. The Colts selected Manning, and the rest is history.
In 1998, the Colts again struggled, finishing 3-13 for the second consecutive season. This time, though, fans could tell things were looking up. The team has a great trio on offense in Harrison, Manning, and Faulk.
Of course, the Colts would trade Faulk in the off-season, to make way for the drafting of Edgerrin James in the 1999 draft.
James made an instant impact, and the Colts were one of two teams in 1999 to usher in huge turnarounds (the eventual champion Rams did similar work in the NFC). The Colts would win 13 games for the first time since the 1968 season, and would host a playoff game in Indianapolis for the first time.
They would face their eventual division rival, the Tennessee Titans, in that game. The Titans would be responsible for the first (of many) one-and-done playoff appearances for the Colts in the Manning era.
While the 1999 season ended in disappointment for the Colts, it was tough to not see the positive direction the team was headed in. The team had its first legitimate quarterback since Bert Jones, and a feature running back.
Next week, we'll look at the 2000s, which saw sustained success in Indianapolis.