The final game of the 2016 NFL season will take place tonight, as the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons face off in Super Bowl LI.
Though the Indianapolis Colts were far from making the game this year, there are a couple of former Colts players who will be participating in the biggest game of them all.
The most notable of them is, of course, Falcons pass rusher Dwight Freeney. He spent the first eleven seasons of his career with the Colts, recording seven double-digit sack seasons, making seven Pro Bowls, and being a three-time first-team All-Pro. He’s one of the all-time great players in franchise history, and with the Colts he racked up 107.5 sacks and 44 forced fumbles to go along with 298 tackles and 15 passes defensed. He’s in his first season with the Falcons after spending two with the Chargers and one with the Cardinals. He’s not the dominant force he once was, but he still has a role on the team, both as a mentor and as a pass rusher. This year, he’s played in 15 games and started one, recording three sacks.
The Falcons also have another former Colts player in linebacker Philip Wheeler. Drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Wheeler spent the first four seasons of his career in Indianapolis (2008-2011). He played in 61 games and started 24 for the Colts, recording 220 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and two passes defensed. His best season in Indy came in 2011, when he played in 13 games and started 11, recording 84 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. He played in 2012 with the Raiders and then spent the next two seasons with the Dolphins before joining the Falcons. He’s in his second season with Atlanta, and this year he played in 16 games and started four while recording 28 tackles.
On Atlanta’s practice squad are tackle Kevin Graf and tight end Darion Griswold, both of whom were with the Colts this past offseason and training camp but didn’t make the roster. Furthermore, on injured reserve for the Falcons is tight end Jacob Tamme, who’s spent the past two seasons with Atlanta but who previously spent four seasons in Indianapolis, playing in 60 games.
On the Patriots’ side of things, there’s only one former Colts player on their active roster: running back Dion Lewis. If you’ve forgotten about Lewis’ tenure with the Colts, however, you’re not alone: it lasted just one week. Originally drafted by the Eagles in 2011 and traded to the Browns in 2013, Cleveland cut him during the 2014 preseason. The Colts signed him on September 9, 2014, but cut him on September 16. He didn’t play in a single game with the team, but at the end of the season he was signed to a reserve/future contract with the Patriots. Since then, he’s carved out a nice, successful role with New England.
The Patriots also have a former Colts player on their practice squad, as outside linebacker Trevor Bates, the Colts’ seventh round pick in the 2016 draft out of Maine, is on New England’s practice squad.
So when the Super Bowl kicks off tonight, there are still a few players who will be familiar to Colts fans even though Indianapolis isn’t playing - and hasn’t been for a month.