INDIANAPOLIS – Fans of the Indianapolis Colts have seen some outstanding playing talent since the team's 1984 arrival. One of the most talented players ever to wear the club's uniform was with the team for its first season in Indianapolis.
Chris Hinton was the only Colts player to earn 1983 Pro Bowl honors, the team's last season in Baltimore. He earned the bid at offensive guard, becoming the first AFC rookie lineman to start the all-star contest since the 1970 NFL Merger. Following an injury-abbreviated 1984 season, Hinton landed five consecutive citations from 1985-89. Each of those came at left tackle.
Hinton thrived as one of the club's most decorated players during his years. All-Pro, All-NFL and All-AFC nominations were a near-annual happenings as a Colt. Hinton's versatility mirrored that of another prominent Colts offensive lineman, Jim Parker. Parker made eight consecutive Pro Bowls from 1958-65, the first five at tackle and the last three at guard. He later made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The team's on-field fortunes progressed along with Hinton's career. The Colts were 7-9 in his initial season. The team's first season in Indianapolis yielded a 4-12 mark, and Hinton's year was halted at six games due to a broken fibula. Indianapolis improved to 5-11 in 1985, and the team turned the corner in 1987 with a 9-6 record that produced the franchise's first playoff berth in a decade. The 1988 and 1989 seasons brought 9-7 and 8-8 records and playoff hopes were decided in the latter stages of each season.
A large part of the team's identity during Hinton's years was the rushing attack. The team sported a 168.4 average in his rookie year. Indianapolis held a 5.0 rushing average in 1985, becoming the first NFL team in a decade to earn such a seasonal average. The club topped 2,000 rushing yards in 1987 and 1988, then rushed for 1,853 yards in 1989.
Hinton was a main cog in the process. Along with Ray Donaldson, a stalwart at center, and linemen that included Ron Solt, Ben Utt, Kevin Call and Randy Dixon, Indianapolis resided among the league's elite rushing teams. The Colts ranked in the NFL's top six rushing attacks four times during Hinton's tenure. The team was among the AFC's top four teams on four occasions from 1983-89, finishing as the top unit in 1983 and 1985.
When Hinton looks back on his years in Indianapolis, his memory returns to a season that was good for Colts fans, too. Coming off a difficult 1986 season that included wins only in the last three games, Indianapolis earned a playoff berth in 1987. Standing at .500 after six games that year, the team acquired running back Eric Dickerson in a trade involving the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo.
Indianapolis battled in a competitive AFC East all season, winning its last two games to take the crown. The final game of the season was a home encounter against Tampa Bay. Indianapolis had a win-and-in scenario and produced a 24-6 victory to capture the division title. For Hinton, and others, it was a great moment.
"I look back and immediately think of early on, (my) rookie year and the move to Indianapolis. But as far as playing memories it would definitely have to be our run in 1987, the playoffs," said Hinton. "After having some lean years, to actually have some success and to actually get into the playoffs (is a good memory). (I remember) just everything coming together, having the running back that any offensive lineman would love to have running behind them in Eric Dickerson and just the team, the camaraderie, the guys coming together and playing as a team. I remember defensively that was the first time that I really experienced watching our defense having some really good success. In pass rushing, Donnell Thompson having a really good year and Johnie Cooks. The team just came together that year."
Indianapolis had a first-round bye before playing a Divisional Playoff match at Cleveland. The Colts fought into the third quarter in a tie game until eventually losing.
The team returned the next season poised to compete again. The club posted a 6-2 home record, and it was a mid-season game against Denver that provided Hinton with his most memorable outing. The Colts were making their first-ever Indianapolis appearance on Monday Night Football. It was a civic happening that fell on Halloween Night. The Colts rolled to a 55-23 victory, amassing then the highest point total in Monday Night Football history. Dickerson rushed for 159 yards and four scores in a little more than a quarter. It was a night of near-magic.
"Oh yeah, I immediately think of Monday Night Football Halloween Night (against Denver in 1988)," said Hinton. "I think if Eric Dickerson had stayed in the game, he might have gained 350 yards. It was that kind of game where anything that we did was right. Anything that Denver did, it went wrong. Everything from not being able to stop us running the ball to onside kicking to us and Pat Beach nearly running for a touchdown just picking up an onside kick. The crowd, I think that was our first Monday Night game in Indianapolis, but the crowd was just so into the game. … It was an electrifying night."
That victory brought a talented and resilient Colts team to 4-5. It came in the midst of eight victories in the last 10 games. The blistering finish could not overcome a difficult 1-5 start, and the club's bid to earn a second consecutive playoff berth was damaged with a game 15 loss at the New York Jets. Hinton made his fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance after the 1988 season, an achievement that marked all but one year of his time in Indianapolis.