INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana has long been considered a mecca of basketball, and, up until 1984, the Indiana Pacers were the only major professional sports team in the entire state.
But Robert Irsay saw tons of potential in the Midwestern state — and Indianapolis, in particular — as one that could not only support a professional football franchise, but as an area that could eventually show the sport as much love and attention as it had given to basketball.
So on March 29, 1984, Irsay brought his Colts franchise to Indianapolis.
Now, the transformation Irsay had dreamed of certainly wasn't immediate. The team would often find itself at, near or below .500 for the first 15 or so years before the love affair between the Colts and Indianapolis would really begin to take shape.
And then, thanks thanks in large part to a certain quarterback out of the University of Tennessee, the Colts have since found themselves to be the hottest ticket in town.
Since that time, the Colts have appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one, and solidified themselves as not only a fan favorite in Indianapolis and across Indiana, but as one of the top franchises in the entire National Football League.
So with today being the 33rd anniversary of the team's move to Indianapolis, let's take a look back at some of the greatest Colts moments in the Circle City:
• Dec. 27, 1987: The Colts defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-6, at the RCA Dome to wrap up a 9-6 regular-season record, and the franchise's first divisional title since coming to Indianapolis. The '87 Colts would feature a talented defense that ranked first in the NFL in points allowed and sixth in yards allowed. Star running back Eric Dickerson — whom Indianapolis would acquire in a three-team, 10-player trade — would be named to the Pro Bowl after collecting 1,011 rushing yards and five touchdowns in just nine games, with eight starts.
• Jan. 7, 1996: Indianapolis would use a Cary Blanchard 30-yard field goal in the third quarter to break a 7-7 tie, and then hold on from there to defeat the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs, 10-7, in the Divisional Round of the 1995 playoffs in front of 77,594 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts advanced to their first AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis, taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers in what would become one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history. In the end, quarterback Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary pass attempt looked like it could be caught by receiver Aaron Bailey in the end zone, but the ball fell to the turf and Pittsburgh would advance to the Super Bowl. The Colts finished with an 11-8 overall record that year.
• Dec. 22, 1997: Colts Owner Jim Irsay sends a third-round pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for Bill Polian, who is named the team's President and general manager. Polian had already built an impressive résumé as a personnel wizard in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and the Panthers, but would do his best work in Indianapolis, and would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
• April 18, 1998: The Colts select Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning with the No. 1-overall pick in the NFL Draft, which was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Polian, in his first major move as the Colts' general manager, decides to go with Manning over Ryan Leaf, who came out of Washington State with perhaps even more talent than Manning, but would go on to struggle both professionally and personally once he got into the NFL.
• Jan. 2, 2000: Though the Colts would lose to the Buffalo Bills, 31-6, in their 1999 season finale, the team would finish the regular season with a 13-3 record, producing a then-NFL record 10-game single-season turnaround. The club won 11 straight games, tying the then-franchise record established in both 1964 and 1975-76. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning led the way, but he was aided by rookie running back Edgerrin James, rising star wide receiver Marvin Harrison and kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who led the league in scoring. In the team's first playoff game in Indianapolis, the Colts would fall to the Tennessee Titans, 19-16.
• Dec. 24, 2000: The Colts finish the regular season with three straight wins, including a 31-10 home win over the Minnesota Vikings to close out the year with a 10-6 record. Manning (4,413) and James (1,709; 2,303) won the NFL passing, rushing and scrimmage yards titles. The team would lose to the Miami Dolphins, 23-17, in overtime in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, but the back-to-back 10-plus-victory seasons were a first for the club since 1976-77.
• Jan. 22, 2002: The Colts hire Tony Dungy as their head coach. Dungy — known not only for his calm demeanor on and off the field, but for his defensive prowess in particular — would go on to post a 85-27 (.759) record in his seven seasons in Indianapolis, winning Super Bowl XLI in 2006. He would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
• Dec. 26, 2004: Manning's ongoing assault of the record books continues with a huge milestone, as his pass in the end zone to wide receiver Brandon Stokley against the San Diego Chargers was his then-NFL-record 49th touchdown pass of the season. Manning would also set an NFL record with a 121.1 quarterback rating for the season, and the Colts would finish 12-4 in the regular season before falling to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
• Feb. 4, 2007: The Colts defeat the Chicago Bears, 29-17, to win Super Bowl XLI in a rainy Miami, Fla. Manning is named the game's Most Valuable Player, while the team also used strong performances from its offensive line, as well as running back Dominic Rhodes, and some timely plays from its defense to take home the Lombardi Trophy. But perhaps the most defining moment of that season — and, perhaps the Colts' entire history in Indianapolis to this point — was the team's 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Indianapolis found itself in a 21-3 deficit, but came all the way back to win, capped by a go-ahead touchdown run by Joseph Addai with a minute remaining, as well as Marlin Jackson's interception of Tom Brady on New England's final drive.• Sept. 7, 2008:
The Colts play their first-ever regular-season game in their brand new home, Lucas Oil Stadium, which features a state-of-the-art retractable roof and a football seating capacity of 63,000-plus. Although Indianapolis would lose that day to the Bears, 29-13, the Colts have since built a 48-24 (.667) winning percentage in regular-season home games at Lucas Oil Stadium through the 2016 season.• Feb. 7, 2010:
Indianapolis once again makes it all the way to the Super Bowl, this time falling to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17. But the Colts would finish with a 14-2 regular-season record in head coach Jim Caldwell's first season, winning their first 14 games and then defeating the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets in the playoffs. The club extended its record to seven consecutive seasons with 12-plus victories and six years with a winning streak exceeding seven games, while Manning won an unprecedented fourth AP NFL MVP honor.
• Jan. 26, 2012: The Colts hire Chuck Pagano as their head coach, and the franchise would face one of its more unique years in its history. The team quickly experienced adversity when Pagano was diagnosed with a curable form of leukemia four weeks into the season, but rallied around their ailing head coach and the "CHUCKSTRONG" campaign en route to accomplishing one of its main goals: extending the season for Pagano's return. Offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians guided the team, led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck (the first-overall pick in that year's NFL Draft) to a 9-3 record in Pagano's absence, and clinched a playoff berth with the team's 20-13 victory at Kansas City. Pagano would return in the regular season finale to lead the Colts to a victory over the Houston Texans. Ultimately, Indianapolis would finish with an 11-5 regular season record and tie for the third-largest one-year turnaround in NFL history, and Pagano and Arians earned dual Coach of the Year honors from several media outlets.
• Dec. 28, 2014: The Colts defeat the Tennessee Titans, 27-10, and wrap up yet another AFC South Division title, and an 11-5 regular season record. Led by Luck, Indianapolis would breeze through the first two rounds of the playoffs, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round and the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round, before falling to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Indianapolis sent seven players to the Pro Bowl that year: safety Mike Adams, cornerback Vontae Davis, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Luck, punter Pat McAfee and kicker Adam Vinatieri. McAfee and Vinatieri would also earn AP First Team NFL All-Pro accolades.
• Aug. 6, 2016: Both Dungy and Harrison are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016, joining Polian (2015) as the primary members of the Indianapolis Colts to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Manning, who retired from the NFL following the 2015 season (and a victory with the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl), is sure to join them soon, as well as James, who has been a Hall of Fame finalist in recent years, and Vinatieri, who continues to kick — and break records — for the Colts into 2017. Other Colts sure to get serious consideration in the near future will be pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and running back Frank Gore.
• Jan. 29, 2017: The Colts hire Chris Ballard as the team's new general manager. Ballard, who had previously been a personnel executive with the Kansas City Chiefs, helped construct a roster that went from 2-14 in the 2012 season to four straight winning seasons, including three playoff appearances and the 2016 AFC West Division title. Ballard also had successful stints as a scout and director of pro scouting with the Chicago Bears, where he worked for 12 seasons.
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