INDIANAPOLIS – Two high school quarterbacks in Baton Rouge, La., went to LSU and migrated to other positions, then they reunited in Indianapolis in those roles, Tracy Porter as a receiver and Eugene Daniel as a cornerback.
Porter joined the Colts one year before Indianapolis drafted Daniel in the eighth round in 1984. Though Daniel played 13 seasons, he was worried about his initial chances.
“I met Eugene in college. He was a high school quarterback who moved to cornerback,” said Porter. “He was a lightning-quick guy who could transition into any role. His role turned out to be defensive back.
“He was concerned when he got to the Colts because Leonard Coleman was a first-round pick at cornerback. Eugene was gravely concerned because Coleman got the plays and publicity. I told him to disregard it and play his game. I told him he had skills and could make the team.”
The pair played on the 1984 team, when Daniel had six interceptions and Porter had 39 receptions. Porter’s career ended then. Coleman’s ended with the Colts in 1987, while Daniel starred until 1996.
“He had awareness, and he had a great work ethic instilled by family,” said George Catavolos, Daniel’s position coach. “Eugene played at a great program at LSU and had a great foundation. When he joined us, he had a burning desire. He wasn’t going home.
“I think there were three or four other defensive backs from LSU who were drafted. I think Eugene out-lasted all of them, and he was like the runt of the litter.”
Catavolos and defensive coordinator Rick Venturi were asked late in the 1984 draft to come up with a cornerback. Daniel was not rated highly, but they went with a hunch.
“We picked him because he had speed and thought he was a good player,” said Catavolos. “Eugene didn’t have rave reports, but he showed up and not only had good work ethic he had good character. He would not be denied.
“There was another cornerback (Leonard Coleman) who was a number one draft pick, but Eugene didn’t let it faze him. He did everything you asked him to do. He played every play like it was his last. It really meant a lot to Eugene to have the opportunity to play.”
Daniel fit into a defense that included veterans like Nesby Glasgow, Barry Krauss, Donnell Thompson and Johnie Cooks, and he became a leader, too.
“Eugene always played with a fire in his belly,” said Catavolos. “He always was going to challenge the opposition. Like any defensive back, he knew he was out on an island and knew he would have some difficult times. He basically was in one-on-one coverage every game.
“I know he wasn’t selected to a Pro Bowl, but he had some Pro Bowl years. He didn’t get the nod, but he was a very good player.”
The nature of Daniel’s position invites critics, and many felt he would be replaced every year. When the starting
bell rang, Daniel was there. He opened at least 13 games in 11 different seasons.
Daniel had 34 career interceptions, tying for third-most in Colts history. He is one of nine Colts with three interceptions in a game.
“I think of three things – football intelligence, his willingness to study and his tremendous durability,” said Venturi. “Eugene was a former high school quarterback, and I have a special place for those guys. He understood the game.
“Eugene really studied before it was popular. He knew what the guy across from him was going to do, and he had great anticipation. He played forever and had solid numbers.”
Daniel’s 13 seasons with the Colts are exceeded only by John Unitas (17) and Peyton Manning (14). When Daniel departed, his 196 career games ranked only behind Unitas (206). Manning since eclipsed both with 208.
Manning entered the NFL as the top overall pick in 1998. Unitas was a hard-scrabble free agent who was cut by Pittsburgh.
While Daniel was a draft pick, one could argue his NFL entry was more like Unitas. Through grit, his longevity matched nearly equaled two of the NFL’s greatest players
“Eugene was an under-stated guy. He had a lot of what Jeff Herrod had physically but personality-wise, they were like 100 miles apart,” said Venturi. “Eugene was one of the real corners who no one ever said anything about, but he was playing well. He was a hero on our team. He was quiet, but he had an intensity and competitiveness that was great.
“You’re always surprised when a guy plays 13 years because it’s such an accomplishment. Originally he was on our free agent board, but we needed another corner. We got into the eighth round and Frank Kush thought we needed another corner. Eugene’s name was at the top. We thought he could play, and he did. When you go as long as he did, that is special.”
Venturi (25 years) and Catavolos (29) almost qualify as NFL-lifers. Both coached in the league long after departing Indianapolis. Catavolos allowed Daniel to serve a coaching internship with him in Buffalo.
“He’s a high-character individual,” said Catavolos. “He took playing in the NFL seriously. He learned his craft. I was proud to be around Eugene.”
“I take a lot of pride in helping him,” said Porter, now a prominent California businessman. “He focused on what he needed to do on the field. Eugene made the team and played longer than anyone I ever knew with the Colts. He was blessed to be skilled and not to have any debilitating injuries.
“I have a high regard for what he accomplished and the length of time he played.”
1984 (Eighth-round pick, No. 205 overall)
Played 1984-96, GAMES STARTED/PLAYED – 185/198
Notes: Never played in fewer than 12 games in any season. Has third-most games played in franchise history, behind only Peyton Manning (208) and John Unitas (206). Tied for third-most seasons (13) and career interceptions (34) in club history. Shares club record with three interceptions in one game and 97-yard TD return vs. NYJ in 1995 is a club record. Credited with 744 career tackles by coaches, one of seven Indianapolis Colts to top 700 for career. Had six interceptions as rookie, one shy of club mark and had eight in 1985.