INDIANAPOLIS — In 1996, the Indianapolis Colts took a chance on a speedy wide receiver out of Syracuse in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Then, in 2003, the team once again rolled the dice in the draft, this time in the fifth round, selecting a productive, but raw, pass rusher out of NCAA I-AA's Alabama A&M University.
Fast forward 14 years, and the former player is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The latter, meanwhile, could very well be joining him in Canton, Ohio, in the coming years.
The selections of wide receiver Marvin Harrison and pass rusher Robert Mathis were two of many successful draft picks by the Colts' franchise in an extremely successful period that, really, took root in the mid-1990s, and culminated in the team's victory over the Chicago Bears about 10 years later in Super Bowl XLI. The success continued through the first decade of the 2000s, and has seen more of the same in this current decade.
And while the Colts and first-year general manager Chris Ballard certainly hope to pick their next Harrison and Mathis starting on Thursday through Saturday in this year's NFL Draft, we've learned the two legends will play a role in the team's various draft events this week in Philadelphia.
According to team Owner Jim Irsay, Harrison will be joining the Colts' contingent at the table at the draft for the first round, while Mathis will announce the team's second-round pick on Friday night:
This year's draft, the great #98 will announce our 2nd round pick; and the great #88 will be at the Colts table during Rd. 1. — Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) April 16, 2017
Harrison's involvement this week is likely a simple explanation: he's a Philadelphia native. The City of Brotherly Love will be playing host to the NFL Draft this year for the first time since 1961.
Harrison attended Roman Catholic High School, where he was a three-time Maxwell Award winner, given to the city's top player. He continued to give back to his hometown throughout his NFL career, where he would host or organize several different charitable efforts.
He would go on to star at Syracuse, where he was a three-year starter as a wide receiver and kick returner. In 42 games, with 30 starts, Harrison would become the school's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,718), would rank second in total touchdowns (22) and was third in receptions (135). He also had two career punt returns for touchdowns.
He made an immediate splash upon being selected by the Colts in the first round in the 1996 NFL Draft, leading the team in receptions (64), receiving yards (836) and receiving touchdowns (eight). He was only getting started, however, and finished his 13-year NFL career — all with the Colts — in 2008 having accumulated 1,102 receptions (fourth all-time) for 14,580 yards (eighth all-time) and 128 receiving touchdowns (fifth all-time).
Last August, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mathis, meanwhile, is selecting the Colts' second-round pick as part of the NFL Legends Community. Thirty-one other former players, each representing a different team, will be doing the same that round.
Unlike Harrison, who was a first-round pick, the Colts weren't as sure what they were going to get out of Mathis when he was selected 138th overall in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Mathis was extremely productive as a pass rusher at NCAA I-AA Alabama A&M, where he had 44 career sacks — including an NCAA I-AA record 20 sacks his senior season — and 20 forced fumbles over his four-year career.
But after showing he could contribute at the NFL level his rookie season, contributing 3.5 sacks as a backup that year, Mathis really came into his own his second year, when he notched 10.5 sacks. He never really slowed down from there, and by the end of the 2016 season — in what would be his 13th and final NFL season, all with the Colts — he would have earned a franchise record 123 quarterback sacks.
Not only that, but Mathis retires having caused the most sack-forced fumbles in NFL history, with 47.
A six-time Pro Bowler and 2013 AFC Defensive Player of the Year, Mathis should be joining Harrison in Canton soon enough.
But, for now, for this week, we'll settle for the two Colts legends having some fun in Philadelphia, while they usher in the newest era in the team's history.
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