Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Franchise 9: Indianapolis Colts

One feature I want to make for this blog is to feature the best nine players for each franchise.  Why nine?  Because then I get to create a binder with a page for each team, of course!  To make my task a little easier, I've decided to narrow the field to Super Bowl Era players only.  First of all, it eased the selection process because I wanted to keep each team to nine players.  Trying to take a team like the Bears or Packers with all its history and whittle the greatest players to nine is a daunting task.  For some of these teams, it was hard enough to make the cuts that I did.  To double the length of the history and decide between Norm Van Brocklin and Torry Holt was beyond the scope of what I wanted for this project.  Sorry Norm, it's just easier to justify excluding you because of your time period.  Second, it makes it a bit easier to collect the cards I need without having to bust my budget on a lot of vintage.  Third, since half the teams in the NFL don't have history too far beyond the advent of the Super Bowl, it levels the field a little for the newer teams.

As is always the case with any type of ranking, there will be plenty of room for debate.  This is in no way a definitive list.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the guys in the trenches, so some may say that I have included too many offensive linemen.  Interestingly, I have found that most teams have a 5/4 split between offense and defense, or vice-versa.  I didn't intentionally try to even it out, that's just how it turned out.  This is just my opinion, and I tried to base it on both stats and status.  I've learned a little bit of football history in the process as well, and having a bit of history is one of the appeals of collecting to me.  In any case, it gave me another something to do with my cards, and that's why I did it in the first place.

The teams will be presented in no particular order; basically, I have chosen the players already and am in the process of filling in the gaps as I do not currently own a card of every player I have chosen.  I'll present each team as I complete its page.  Players are in order of position, not ranking.  I don't really care to take my nine franchise players and try to rank their greatness.  I'll just leave it as a team.

The Colts have played in four Super Bowls, two each representing Baltimore and Indianapolis.  They have gone 2-2 in those games, winning one and losing one for each city.  That's pretty balanced.  So who have they got on their Franchise team?

1. Peyton Manning, QB (1999 Collector's Edge Fury)
This is a no-brainer.  Manning is constantly in the conversation for best QB of all-time.  He may be the smartest, most cerebral passer the game has ever seen.

2. Johnny Unitas, QB (1989 Swell Football Greats)
Here is another no-brainer.  Before the coming of a guy named Montana, I think most people would have said Johnny U was hands-down the greatest QB ever.  The game has changed, becoming more passer friendly and modern quarterbacks have much gaudier stats than Unitas, but his contributions to the passing game helped the evolution happen.  He won 3 MVPs and a Super Bowl with the Colts while re-writing the league's record book.

3. Edgerrin James, RB (2005 Topps)
The franchise leader in rushing, with over 9,000 yards logged as a Colt, was also a dangerous weapon in the passing game.  He averaged 51 receptions per season to go along with his 1,318 rushing yards each year.

4. Lydell Mitchell, RB (1975 Topps)
Before Edgerrin James broke the record, Lydell Mitchell had been the franchise's leading rusher.  Like James, he was a dynamic playmaker in the passing game.  In only six years with the Colts, Mitchell scored 41 touchdowns while averaging close to 1,500 all-purpose yards per season.  According to Pro-Football Reference's AV stat, he had more impact per game than the quarterback, Bert Jones, which is really unheard of, if you study the site's stats.

5. Marvin Harrison, WR (1996 Pro Line)
A Hall of Fame receiver who ranks fifth on the NFL's all-time reception list?  I think he will qualify for his team's Top 9.  Harrison also holds the single season reception mark with 143.  At the time, that mark was 20 more than had ever been caught in one season.  His 128 receiving TDs is also fifth in the NFL's annals.

6. Reggie Wayne, WR (2007 Topps)
So, Peyton Manning had Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison already.  Now we're putting Reggie Wayne on the list too?  That's unfair for opposing defenses.  Wayne finished his career with 1070 receptions and 82 TDs.

7. John Mackey, TE (2011 Playoff Contenders Super Bowl Tickets)
The Colts have been blessed with some outstanding playmakers through the years.  No other team has a Franchise 9 that is so heavy on the offensive side of the ball.  Mackey revolutionized the tight end position, becoming a deep threat before tight ends were ever used to stretch the field.  He finished his Colts career with 320 receptions, averaging 16 yards per catch on those.

8. Dwight Freeney, DE (2012 Topps)
Freeney took down opposing quarterbacks 107.5 times as a Colt, earning three All-Pro nods along the way.  He may not have the prototypical size for a defensive end, but he used his quickness to become one of the premier pass rushers of the era.

9. Robert Mathis, DE (2014 Topps Valor)
Freeney's bookend on the defensive line was no slouch either.  Robert Mathis may not have received as many accolades as Freeney, but he still wrecked quarterbacks to the tune of 123 career sacks, all with Indianapolis.

Six of these players were teammates at one point.  Most of those played together for a good portion of the 2000s.  It's easy to see when this franchise's glory days were.  Before Manning was drafted in 1998, the Colts floundered through much of the late 70s, 80s, and the beginning of the 90s.  The three other players make up the other piece of bread in the Colts' success sandwich, coming in the 60s and 70s.  If Andrew Luck doesn't come back to form and fill his potential, the Colts might have some more waiting to do before finding success again.


  1. A lot of people seem to be coming up with fun series ideas as of late, this one being no different. I really enjoyed this first post, and am looking forward to reading future installments.

  2. I'm just getting caught up on these and I think you covered most everyone that someone would think of when talking about great Colts players of the past. By the way, that Unitas card is really ... well, um ... swell.

  3. Mackey is easily the best TE ever.

    I han no idea Lydell Mitchell had such a good pro career. I guess for out-of-towners, his exploits were overshadowed by his Penn State running mate Franco Harris.