The First Fifteen Years: A Chronicle of the Colts in Indianapolis, Part I
Written April 5, 1999
By Mike Devitt, "The Twelfth Man"
Fifteen years ago, facing the possibility of losing his team to the state of Maryland, Robert Irsay pulled up stakes and moved the Colts from Baltimore to their current home in Indianapolis. Much has happened to the franchise in that time -- more bad than good, to be honest -- but life with the Colts has certainly been interesting for the last decade and a half.
Since 1984, the Colts have played a total of 239 games and have a regular season record of 91-148 (a .381 winning percentage). They've had a moderate amount of success in that timespan, making the postseason three times, winning two playoff games following the 1995 season, and earning the AFC's Eastern Division championship in 1987.
But for the brief success the Colts enjoyed in the mid-'80s and '90s, most of the past 15 years has been a study in frustration. Since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts have finished below .500 twice as many times -- eight -- as they've finished above .500. They've had seven seasons with 10 or more losses, including a disastrous 1-15 campaign in 1991, and the franchise is a combined 6-20 over the past two years.
What follows is the first part in a series that chronicles the Colts and their doings in Indianapolis. Part II will cover the years 1989 through 1993; Part III will cover 1994 through the 1998 season.
The Indianapolis Colts, 1984-1988
March 28: With the very real threat of his team being seized by the state legislature under the guise of eminent domain, owner Robert Irsay gives the order to move his team out of Baltimore and into Indianapolis.
April 18: Season tickets go on sale in Indianapolis. The team receives more than 143,000 ticket requests in the next two weeks.
April 26: Jim Irsay is named general manager and, at age 25, becomes the youngest general manager in the NFL. Bob Terpening is promoted from director of pro personnel to assistant general manager.
May 1-2: The annual NFL draft is held in New York City. With their first-ever pick in Indianapolis, the Colts select Leonard Coleman, a defensive back from Vanderbilt. After never missing a game in college, Coleman plays in only 32 games in four years and in 1988 is traded to the San Diego Chargers for a 12th round draft pick.
Another memorable name is taken in the same draft. With the 205th pick, the Colts select Louisiana State cornerback Eugene Daniel in the eighth round. Considered a longshot to make the team, Daniel instead becomes a fixture in the Colts secondary, starting 184 of 198 games and leading the team in interceptions three times in his 13-year stint with Indianapolis.
July 13: Training camp begins for the Colts at Anderson University. The team will use its facilities up until the 1999 season, when they decided to hold camp at Rose Hulman University in Terre Haute.
September 2: In their first-ever game at the Hoosier Dome, a sellout crowd of 60,398 watches the Colts lose the season opener to the New York Jets 23-14. Some "fans," who are apparently unaccustomed to watching professional football, are seen attending the game in dinner jackets and evening gowns and using opera glasses instead of binoculars.
September 8: After being released by the Falcons on August 14, the Colts take a chance on a little-known kicker named Dean Biasucci. Before his career with Indianapolis is over, Biasucci will owner several team kicking records, including career field goals made and attempted.
September 9: Mike Pagel completes 15 of 20 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 victory over Houston, giving the Colts get their first win in the Indianapolis era. Pagel also rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter and becomes the first Colt to be named the AFC's Player of the Week.
September 30: The Colts get their first-ever win at the Hoosier Dome by beating the Buffalo Bills 31-17. The Colts will win just one more game at home that season, a 17-16 nailbiter over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 21st.
December 13: Head coach Frank Kush is fired after leading his team to a 4-11 mark. Offensive line coach Hal Hunter is given the interim coaching position, but his career as head coach lasts just one game, a 16-10 loss to the New England Patriots in the season finale.
December 16: Guard Ron Solt and defensive end Blaise Winter are named to the AFC's All-Rookie team. Indianapolis finishes the season fourth in the AFC East with a 4-12 record.
January 28: Rod Dowhower, a former offensive coordinator with the Sr. Louis Cardinals, is named head coach.
April 10: Quarterback Mark Herrmann, who had been acquired as part of the infamous John Elway trade in 1983, is sent to the San Diego Chargers for a tenth-round draft pick in 1986.
April 30: Linebacker Duane Bickett is taken with the Colts first pick, the fifth overall selection in the first round. He quickly establishes himself as one of the team's best defensive players, starting all 16 games and leading the team in sacks.
August 23: The Colts officially move their headquarters to a new facility on 56th Street.
September 22: After starting the season 0-2, Indianapolis gets their first win of the season by defeating the Detroit Lions 14-6. Running back George Wonsley, making his first start as a pro, rushes for 170 yards on 27 carries. He also catches five passes for 31 yards, becoming the first Colt since Roger Carr to amass 200 yards from scrimmage in one game.
October 27: In perhaps their best game of the season, the Colts trounce the Green Bay Packers 37-10. Wayne Capers catches five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns and adds a third score on a 20-yard reverse in the first quarter. For his effort, Capers is named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week.
Eugene Daniel has an equally outstanding performance on defense, intercepting three passes and recovering a fumble that sets up a touchdown. He receives Defensive Player of the Week honors, marking the first time in franchise history that players have earned such honors in the same week.
Despite the win, there are very early indications that some fans have already grown tired of the team's losing ways. Although the Hoosier Dome is officially sold out for the remainder of the season, the actual attendance dwindles for each of the team's remaining home games, from nearly 60,000 for the Green Bay game to less than 56,000 for the season finale against Houston.
December 22: The Colts finish the season with a 34-16 victory over the Oilers. Under Dowhower, Indianapolis finishes with a 5-11 record, one game better than last season and good enough for fourth place in the AFC East.
Left tackle Chris Hinton, who was also acquired as part of the John Elway trade, makes the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career. Punter Rohn Stark gets his first Pro bowl berth and sets a franchise record with a 45.9 average. Duane Bickett and Anthony Young are chosen to the NFL's All-Rookie team; Bickett is named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
April 18: Eleven days before the draft, the Colts trade their first and third round picks to New Orleans for the Saints' pick in the first round. With that pick, the Colts select defensive end Jon Hand, continuing a trend of botched first-round picks that lasts well into the 1990s.
April 19: In a show of good will, the Colts open their complex to the public. More than 10,000 fans stop by the complex for a visit.
April 29: Believing he is the answer to the team's problems at quarterback, Indianapolis trades second- and fifth-round picks for Dallas QB Gary Hogeboom. Hogeboom lasts three seasons in Indianapolis and suffers a variety of injuries, including a punctured lung, before signing with the Phoenix Cardinals following the 1988 season.
September 14: Hogeboom suffers a separated shoulder during a 30-10 loss to the Dolphins. Jack Trudeau, who was part of the trade that brought Hogeboom to Indianapolis, takes over at quarterback and starts the next 11 games for the Colts, and sets team rookie records for completions, attempts and yards.
October 12: In the midst of a losing streak, Leonard Coleman is named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week by picking off three passes against the New Orleans Saints, but it isn't enough to stop the Colts from falling to New Orleans 17-14.
December 1: Unfortunately, the one thing Trudeau can't do for the Colts is win a game. Indianapolis starts the season 0-13, which leads to the firing of Dowhower and the hiring of Ron Meyer.
December 7: Down 23-21 to the Falcons, defensive back Tate Randle blocks a punt with 20 seconds left in the game. Eugene Daniel takes the ball and returns it 13 yards for a touchdown, giving the Colts a 28-23 victory, their first win of the season.
December 22: The Colts end 1986 with their third consecutive win of the season, beating the Los Angeles Raiders 30-24. Defensive tackle Harvey Armstrong leads the assault with five tackles, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a sack, earning Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process.
Indianapolis finishes 1986 with a 3-13 season that leaves them last in the AFC East. Despite the poor showing, there are signs of life, especially under Meyer's direction. Stark, Hinton and Ray Donaldson all make the Pro Bowl, while Hand and wide receiver Bill Brooks are named to the NFL's All-Rookie team.
Brooks has one of the most impressive rookie seasons in Colts history, setting team rookie records in catches, yards and touchdown receptions.
April 28: By virtue of their 3-13 record, the Colts are awarded the second overall pick in the college draft. With that pick, they select linebacker Cornelius Bennett from Alabama, but Bennett has no desire to play in Indianapolis, especially not for Robert Irsay. A few months later, he will become a key part in what many consider the biggest trade since the Colts moved to Indiana.
Aside from Bennett, the Colts do make some minor improvements in the later rounds. In the fourth, they select offensive tackle Randy Dixon, who takes over at left guard for the next eight years, and in the tenth round, the Colts find a sleeper in Chris Goode, who starts at cornerback for much of the next six seasons.
May 11: Indianapolis plucks free agent Mike Prior off of the scrap heap. Before signing with the Green Bay Packers after the 1992 season, Prior will lead the Colts in interceptions twice and earn a reputation as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league.
September 13: After finishing the preseason 3-1, the Colts lose their fourth straight season opener to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-21.
September 22: Two weeks into the regular season, the NFL Players Association calls a strike. The strike lasts 24 days. Games played the weekend of September 27-28 are canceled, but the following three weeks are played using replacement players. The Colts go 2-1 during the replacement games. Regular players resume play the last weekend of October.
October 31: In the franchise's biggest trade since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts trade the rights to Cornelius Bennett to the Bills for Buffalo's first round pick in 1988 and their first and second round picks in 1989. The Colts then trade Buffalo's picks, plus their own first and second round picks in 1988, a second round pick in 1989, and running back Owen Gill to the Los Angeles Rams for disgruntled running back Eric Dickerson.
November 1: Less than 24 hours after being sent to the Colts, Dickerson helps lead the Colts to a 19-14 victory over the Jets in the Meadowlands. Duane Bickett adds 10 tackles and four quarterback sacks and is named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week in the process.
November 29: The Colts enjoy their highest scoring game in more than a decade, routing the Oilers 51-27. Eric Dickerson tops the 100-yard mark for a club record fourth consecutive game, but the team loses Hogeboom again after suffering a shoulder injury late in the first half.
December 27: In front of a then-record crowd of 60,468, the Colts clinch the AFC East with a 24-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Eric Dickerson rushes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, earning Player of the Week honors.
The Colts finish the season with a 9-6 record, the first time since 1977 they end the season above .500. Six Colts are named to the Pro Bowl, including Bickett, Dickerson, center Ray Donaldson, kicker Dean Biasucci, tackle Chris Hinton and guard Ron Solt. Ron Meyer is named the NFL's Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.
January 9: The Colts' first trip to the postseason in a decade ends quickly with a 38-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Indianapolis outgains the Browns in passing yards, but Cleveland turns two Colt interceptions into touchdowns, including a 48-yard return by cornerback Frank Minnifield in the game's final minute.
March 29: Indianapolis trades a sixth-round pick to the Washington Redskins for receiver Clarence Verdin. Verdin becomes a valuable addition to the club's special teams, leading the AFC in punt return yardage in 1989 and 1990.
April 24-25: In the annual college draft, the Colts spent their first pick on quarterback Chris Chandler in the third round. In the ninth round, the team uncovers another gem in linebacker Jeff Herrod, who stars in 116 of 133 games for Indianapolis and retires a decade later as the Colts' all-time leader in tackles.
September 4: For the fifth consecutive season since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts lose their season opener, this time a 17-14 overtime defeat at the hands of the Houston Oilers.
September 9: In another notoriously bad trade, the Colts deal two first round picks to acquire Seattle linebacker Fredd Young. Young last three seasons in Indianapolis and never turns into the player the team expected.
October 16: Indianapolis wins a 35-31 thriller over the Buccaneers, kicking off a five-game winning streak for the Colts, the longest winning streak since the team moved from Baltimore.
October 23: Eric Dickerson rushes for a season-high 169 yards on 30 carries, and the Colts get their first shutout and road win of the season by blanking San Diego 16-0.
October 31: A year to the day after the biggest trade in franchise history, the Colts destroy the Broncos 55-23 in the first Monday Night Football game played in Indianapolis. Eric Dickerson rushes for four touchdowns in the first 19 minutes, setting a club record, and ends the game with 159 yards on the ground. The game is also memorable in that the Hoosier Dome crowd is adorned in masks of the Monday Night Football announcing team.November 27: The Colts win for the sixth time in seven games, beating the New England Patriots 24-21 at the Hoosier Dome. Duane Bickett is named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in his career with a 10-tackle, one interception, one fumble recovery effort against New England.
December 18: Indianapolis finishes the season with a 17-14 victory over Buffalo. At 9-7, the Colts end the year with consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1976-77 but fail to make the postseason. Dickerson finishes with a club record 1,659 yards rushing and is named to the Pro Bowl once again, as are Chris Hinton and Ray Donaldson.
Although they fail to get back into the playoffs, the team's winning ways the past two seasons have a positive effect on overall attendance. Colts fans sell out out five of eight home games at the Hoosier Dome, the most since the franchise's second year in Indiana. For the first time since moving out of Baltimore, the future actually looks bright for the Indianapolis Colts.