INDIANAPOLIS — It wasn't that long ago when opposing quarterbacks had nightmares about No. 93 and No. 98 in blue coming right for them.
For 10 seasons, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis established themselves as not only the best pass-rushing duo in the National Football League, but the best to ever do it in a Colts uniform.
Need a sack? Freeney and Mathis combined for 186 of those with the Colts. Need the ball back for your offense? The duo forced 73 fumbles in their 10 seasons together.
Those are video game numbers, and they happened right here in Indianapolis.
Matched with an elite offense led by the likes of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday and others, it's no surprise that the Colts were able to sustain such a high level of success throughout Freeney and Mathis' time together in Indy, highlighted by two Super Bowl appearances, including a championship in Super Bowl XLI.
While Freeney eventually went on to play elsewhere — playing in parts of three seasons with the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals from 2013 to 2015 before landing with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason — the two remain close to this day, and in many more ways than one.
First is their passionate friendship and bond. It's something Mathis talked about on Tuesday when asked about his former pass-rushing partner.
"He's my biggest fan and I'm his biggest fan when it comes to that," Mathis said. "We grew up in the game together and I love what he's doing and he loves what I'm doing."
Dwight Freeney 2011 Season Highlights
Mathis isn't lying. Though their paths to Indianapolis were distinctly different — Freeney was the 11th-overall selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2002 NFL Draft, while Mathis was more of an unheralded fifth-round pick the following season — each player fed off one another to get better and better each and every season.
Their numbers, accordingly, began to build into nearly unprecedented heights. Freeney and Mathis combined for 14 Pro Bowl selections in their 10 seasons in Indy, and it seemed like they took an "Anything you can do, I can do better" approach each and every week.
"We pushed each other. That's the beauty of it," Freeney told the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer last season. "To have that guy on the field with you, he's going through the same struggles you are. That's kind of what it was. You see him go make a play, then you make one. We fed off each other for years. It was basically a race to the quarterback. Who could get there first?"
Perhaps not coincidentally, just 1.5 sacks currently separate Freeney and Mathis in their career totals: Freeney has 119.5 sacks — ranking 19th all-time — while Mathis is right there with 118, ranking 20th.
Freeney last season had a resurgent year with the Cardinals, logging eight sacks in just 11 games. Just as impressive, Mathis had seven sacks in 15 games with the Colts in a season in which he was fully recovering from an astounding 10 surgical procedures to fix a torn Achilles tendon.
The two continue to check the boxscores after each and every game to see if one has overtaken the other in their friendly competition to eventually be crowned King of Sacks.
"It's a brotherly kind of competition that we have going," Mathis said, "but it's all to try to boost each other up."