The Indianapolis Colts have a long and exciting history which includes a Super Bowl Championship and a roster that featured some of the best players to ever take the field. Our Indiana Giordano’s teams are among the most passionate NFL fans who support their Colts through thick and thin. Whether you’re a die-hard Colts fan or if you’re just rooting for Indy’s hometown team for the first time, here’s everything you need to know about Indianapolis Colts NFL history.
Colts Formation and Early Years
Like many professional sports teams across our nation, the Indianapolis Colts did not originate in the state of Indiana. The Baltimore Colts were originally a team in the All-American Football Conference established in 1947. The AAFC and NFL agreed to allow the Baltimore Colts to become official NFL members in 1950. Unfortunately, this was considered a failed franchise after its inaugural year and the team was disbanded after a single season. Thankfully, Baltimore was given a second chance to resurrect this franchise a mere three years later.
In 1953, the Dallas Texans franchise was dismantled. As the NFL looked for cities to host a new franchise, the city of Baltimore was challenged by the NFL Commissioner to sell 15,000 season tickets in less than two months. They met their goal two weeks before their deadline and were awarded the remains of the Dallas Texans team which included their royal blue and white team colors. In 1954, the franchise later known as the Indianapolis Colts made their NFL debut.
The team name “Colts” derived from the Preakness Stakes, the annual Thoroughbred horse race in Baltimore that’s garnered national attention since its establishment in 1873. The Baltimore Colts were also the first team in the NFL to have dedicated cheerleaders and a marching band. After three years, the Colts played their first winning season in 1957 and maintained a record over .500 for fourteen years. Much of their success during these years is attributed to backup quarterback Johnny Unitas, who became the starting QB in 1956.
The future Pro Football Hall of Famer led the team to the playoffs ten times, three of which included successful NFL Championship games. Their first victory in 1958 was an especially notable performance as it was the first NFL playoff game to reach sudden death overtime — the Colts triumphed over the New York Giants. They would eventually make two Super Bowl appearances — falling to the New York Jets during Super Bowl III and securing victory in Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys.
Although their Super Bowl win in 1971 added yet another championship to their young history, ownership changes made in 1972 spelled the beginning of the end for the Baltimore Colts. Johnny Unitas was immediately traded after the ’72 season, and the Colts only advanced to the playoffs three times in the next decade. Consecutive losing seasons allowed them to draft John Elway in 1982. However, Elway refused to play and was quickly traded to the Denver Broncos. The Baltimore Colts played their final season in 1983.
Relocation to Indiana
In 1984, the Baltimore Colts were approached by the city of Indianapolis. The capital of Indiana had recently constructed a stadium specifically built to host an NFL expansion team. Baltimore’s current stadium required significant upgrades, if not an entirely new structure. Unfortunately, the relationship between the city of Baltimore and the Colts ownership suffered over the years as attendance for games dropped. Despite legal action taken by Baltimore, the Colts successfully relocated their franchise to Indianapolis in 1984, taking the team name, colors and players with them.
The move occurred literally overnight, with many fans unaware of any relocation plans until after it happened. This angered the city, fans and many former Colts players. Baltimore would not receive another NFL team until the Cleveland Browns were relocated to Charm City as the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Though the NFL officially recognizes Baltimore Colts’ championship titles as part of the Indianapolis Colts’ franchise, many passionate fans consider these historic victories as strictly Baltimore achievements. A statue of Johnny Unitas, for instance, still stands outside of the Ravens stadium.
Surprisingly, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band continued to play in Baltimore to keep the spirit of the team alive. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, the new Colts struggled from the start. The relocated team did not enjoy a successful record during this first decade in Indiana. Although they did enter into the playoffs after winning the AFC East divisional championship in 1987, their overall run between 1984 and 1994 was far short of spectacular. Thankfully, a few key players would redefine the future of the franchise and the NFL.
The Birth of a Football City
The Colts acquired Jim Harbaugh — future head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and University of Michigan Wolverines — from the Chicago Bears in 1994. During the 1995 season, Harbaugh took over starting quarterback duties and brought the Colts back into the playoffs. Their winning record was hard fought, with many of their victories secured from behind. Harbaugh’s skill under pressure earned him the name “Captain Comeback” while the team was lovingly referred to as the Cardiac Colts. They lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship.
The 1995 Indianapolis Colts season is considered the year in which the city developed the passionate fan base it’s known for today. Before 1995, basketball and their hometown Pacers were the dominant sports focus in the city. Strong fan support for the Cardiac Colts only increased as the team defied the odds in nearly every game and finally returned to the playoffs. The 1995 season turned Indianapolis into the spirited football city that it is today.
Coming off of an impressive season, the Colts did secure yet another brief playoff appearance in 1996. Unfortunately, changes in coaching staff and injuries did not lend any help to the Colts season, and they again fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round. In 1997, their season contained only three wins despite an impressive performance by Harbaugh. At the end of the season, Harbaugh was traded to the Baltimore Ravens — opening the doors for a legendary quarterback to make his NFL debut.
The Peyton Manning Era
Peyton Manning is one of the most famous names in all of football. Throughout his 18 seasons in the NFL, he completed 539 touchdowns and threw for nearly 72,000 yards before retiring in 2016. Although he ended his football career as a Denver Bronco after an impressive win at Super Bowl 50, Manning is best known as the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts from 1998 through 2011. The first-round draft pick from the University of Tennessee was immediately given the starting position and began his legacy.
Manning threw for 3,739 yards, including 26 touchdowns, in his first seasons. He would never fall below those stats until his final season with the Broncos. Sadly, his stellar performance was the lone highlight in an underwhelming season. Manning’s performance and the offense as a whole saw improvement in 1999. Edgerrin James was drafted and became a dominant running back in the league. The Colts advanced to the playoffs but were stopped short in the first round.
The Colts’ problematic defense resulted in disappointing seasons from 2000 through 2002. Knocked out of the first round of the playoffs again in 2000, their momentum continued to slow as James suffered a season-ending injury, and the team failed to reach the playoffs. The 2002 season mirrored 2000 — the Colts advanced to the first round of the playoffs only to be defeated. Their luck turned in 2003 when they achieved their first home playoff win and advanced to the AFC Championship before suffering a loss.
Peyton Manning, arguably one of the strongest players in Colts history, continued to deliver impressive stats despite the team’s inability to make it to the Super Bowl. Their seasons in 2004 and 2005 also ended with heartbreaking defeats in the playoffs, but players like Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne were able to help Manning turn the team around. All five would later be inducted into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor, but their first feat would be bringing the team to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLI
Finally, the Indianapolis Colts made it to the Super Bowl. The 2006 season started with a 9-0 record, and they ended the regular season 12-4, clinching the divisional title. The Colts’ defense won them the first round of the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs while kicker Adam Vinatieri helped them advance to the AFC Championship. They played a hard-fought game against an unrelenting New England Patriots team but were able to clinch the win and head to Miami for Super Bowl XLI.
Rain drowned the field as the Colts took on the Chicago Bears. They traded touchdowns, fumbles and field goals as the weather got worse. Together, the Colts were able to pull out a victory which included Manning’s MVP-award performance of 247 yards. Though Manning would continue to lead the Colts to the playoffs for a total of ten consecutive years, this would be their only win, and they would only advance to the Super Bowl once more in 2009, where Manning’s interception would help the New Orleans Saints triumph.
The End of an Era
2007 through 2011 was bittersweet. With a Super Bowl victory now in the record books, hopes were high that Manning and his team could repeat their success. A strong 2007 showing earned them a first-round bye week in the playoffs, but they still could not advance to the AFC Championship. They couldn’t make it past the wild card round in the 2008 or the 2010 playoffs and lost in the 2009 Super Bowl to the Saints. 2011 ended in a 2-14 record with an injured Manning out for the season.
After the 2011 season, Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts. He then signed with the Denver Broncos, where he ended his career, retiring following his Super Bowl 50 victory. An iconic player who is still appreciated by Colts fans today, Manning helped cement the Indianapolis football team as an annual playoff contender. His exit was graceful, and he retained the respect of Colts fans. Though the future seemed uncertain for the Colts, fate would soon show them that luck truly was in their favor.
Luck Strikes Twice
Filling the shoes of Peyton Manning was an unenviable task. Although fans were left without the all-star quarterback during his final Colts season, his absence turned into a blessing in disguise. The Colts’ losing season earned them the first round draft pick in 2012 — a golden ticket that couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Colts drafted Andrew Luck from Stanford University, and a new era began. Luck’s first season ended with an 11-5 record and a trip to the first round of the playoffs.
Luck led the Colts to three division titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Despite injuries keeping him off of the field partially in 2015 and for the duration of the 2017 season, Luck’s performance with the Colts has been impressive. From his first start through the 2018 season, he has thrown for 23,671 yards and 171 touchdowns, though he missed 26 games due to injury. In comparison, Manning threw for 216 touchdowns and 29,442 yards without missing any games his first seven seasons with the Colts.
The Indianapolis Colts have a long history of stunning comebacks and heartbreaking defeats. Although their roster past and present features some of the greatest players to ever step foot on the gridiron, there’s no denying that the MVPs of every season are the fans. Many consider them among the top ten loyal fan bases of the NFL. As the “12th Man” on the team, the fans are the heart and soul of the Colts. They’ve even been inducted into the prestigious Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor.
Cheer on the Colts at Giordano’s in Indianapolis
As the Colts gear up for the next season, fans throughout Indianapolis and around the country are ready to cheer on Andrew Luck and company. They’ll be cheering in the stands during every home game and watching every road game from home. Win or lose, the Indianapolis Colts can always count on their fans for support, and their fans can always count on Giordano’s to provide the perfect game day pie. Our cheesy deep-dish pizzas are baked fresh every day and are stuffed with your choice of tasty toppings.
We invite you to stop by one of our five locations throughout Indiana. If you’ve got tickets to the game, swing by our downtown Indianapolis or Castleton locations. If you’re watching at home, be the MVP of your tailgate party and order a few pies for pickup or delivery. Wherever you watch the game, cheer on our Colts with all you’ve got. Whenever you want the best Chicago style deep dish pizza in Indianapolis, head to Giordano’s and we’ll give you the game-changing taste you crave.