AFC South: Baltimore Colts

Point 1) I fell in love with Raymond Berry when I read this excerpt from Mark Bowden’s book on The Greatest Game Ever Played. It’s the root of one of my football tenets: Do not slip.

[+] EnlargeJeff Saturday and Robert Kraft
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterPatriots owner Robert Kraft owner, left, is hugged by Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts after the lockout ended.
Point 2) I argue constantly that a team and the league, not the fans and the press, get to decide if a team that’s relocated retains its past. The only team that’s ever left its history behind is the Cleveland Browns.

What do the two have to do with each other?

The NFL announced it will honor Berry as part of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. He will carry the Lombardi Trophy to the presentation. The connection, of course, is that Berry played for the Colts.

The Baltimore Colts.

I understand the “link,” but as part of a celebration of the host city, there is a complete disconnect. I’d never say Berry isn’t due an honor, but this isn’t the time.

Kudos to Scott McCauley, whose tweet on the topic spurred this post.
"Eric Dickerson should present the #SuperBowl trophy not Raymond Berry. Would Jim Brown present if game was in Baltimore?"

I don’t know about Dickerson. He’s a Ram to a lot of people.

The league is surely reluctant to use a current player.

But the perfect choice would be Jeff Saturday. He won a Super Bowl with the Colts, and he was an instrumental guy as a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee who was a giant influence on getting the CBA in place and saving the season.

Without him, maybe there wouldn't even be a presentation.

RTC: Jags have to find pass pressure

December, 8, 2011
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Jeff Garcia said he hadn’t totally checked out, but he wasn’t throwing every other day either when the Texans called, writes Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle. I have no idea what he has left. But if something happens to T.J. Yates and the Texans have to play a fourth quarterback, he or Jake Delhomme is probably as good an alternative as can be found.

Indianapolis Colts

Baltimore’s old guard will never forget the way the Colts sneaked out of town, and certainly is enjoying Indianapolis’ struggle this season, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. I can understand why that scar is still there for people who were dedicated to a team that bolted.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Philip Rivers was too comfortable in the pocket in San Diego’s win over the Jaguars Monday night, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union. To give their inexperienced cornerbacks a chance, the Jaguars simply have to find a way to pressure the quarterback better.

Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are all in position to threaten Dan Marino’s record for single-season passing yards, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. As the Titans prepare for Brees and the Saints, Wyatt looks at what’s created so many passing yards.
The passing of Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey hit me a little harder than other recent deaths of athletes.

The Mackey story is heartbreaking. He was one of the most dominating players at a position as you could find in the NFL. Once the ball got into his hands, Mackey was an unstoppable force. His big body would plow through defenses. Mackey was the essence of the physical style of football.

[+] EnlargeJohn Mackey
AP PhotoJohn Mackey played for the Colts from 1963-71 and for the Chargers in 1972.
But the physical pain he inflicted had its costs. He suffered from frontotemporal dementia and had to move to an assisted living facility. His death comes as retired players filed a lawsuit in Minnesota seeking a seat at the bargaining table in labor talks between owners and players.

Mackey’s death should remind both sides of the importance of taking care of the players who made this game so great. Because of the concern about Mackey's health troubles after football, both sides came up with the "88 plan," which provided retired players money for nursing homes and adult daycare.

Mackey touched me most as a voting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mackey was part of my favorite class. I liked the class of 1992 because it included some of the most controversial figures in the NFL at the time -- Mackey, Al Davis and John Riggins.

Mackey had his detractors because he was part of a 1977 antitrust suit against the NFL seeking free agency for players. Owners controlled everything back in those days, and they didn’t take well to challenges. Mackey was fearless on the field and didn’t fear the consequences of putting his name on a lawsuit to help himself and his peers.

I was one of the youngest Hall of Fame voters at that time. Will McDonough, the former Boston Globe icon whom I modeled my career after, pulled me aside and asked me if I would help on support for Mackey, Davis and Riggins. Davis was unpopular in some NFL circles because of his many lawsuits and battles with the league. Riggins was controversial, but he was a great player.

Spurred by McDonough, I started quietly talking to voters to gauge their thoughts on these three NFL icons. The conversations, as they usually are in on- and off-the-record Hall of Fame discussions, were positive, but it was fascinating hearing some of the reasons some voters had questions about Mackey, Davis and Riggins.

I don’t know if I convinced a single voter to support Mackey, Davis or Riggins, but the results said something. It was one of my proudest moments as a voter.

Unfortunately, Mackey wasn’t able to fully enjoy the post-football life befitting of a Hall of Famer. Mackey’s death may not open a seat at the bargaining table for retired players, but his portrait should be positioned in a spot for owners and players to see -- and to remember what he and others have meant to this game.
One of the reasons to like Dallas Clark is that he’s got a sense of history.

As we learned of John Mackey's passing Thursday morning, I immediately thought of Clark. In 2009, Clark passed Mackey for the Colts’ franchise record for receptions by a tight end.

Here’s what Clark said about Mackey as he neared that record, from the Indianapolis Star:
"He's the man… "Any time that I've ever been (mentioned) in the same sentence with him, that's just a great honor. For what he did for Baltimore . . . what he did for the position in general was tremendous. He was special…"

"It was him and (Kellen) Winslow Sr., back in their days. They made people look at different things a tight end could do. It used to be they just blocked or maybe were an extra lineman.

"For them to change the position and change the way teams used them . . . that's the reason I have a job, I guess."

Mackey's influence in the sport extended well beyond altering a position. He was also the first president of the players association.

Here’s Mark Klingaman’s obituary of Mackey. I didn’t know he was connected to Ernie Davis from time together at Syracuse, a cool connection between two very impressive football players and two very impressive men.
In ranking Colts all-time quarterbacks, Mike Tanier did not take the easy way out. He looked at signal-callers who played in both Baltimore and Indianapolis, which meant a head-to-head Peyton Manning vs. Johnny Unitas debate.

Manning wins, and Tanier makes a strong case, keyed around this: “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in any of the records like Manning’s body of work over the last decade.”

This is as good a piece on Manning’s historical standing as I can remember.

In it, Tanier sorts through a complicated issue in a discussion of how to compare greats from very different eras. Excuse the giant chunk, I promise it's worth it:
"One thing that often happens in these arguments is that we adjust the contemporary player down because careers are longer and stats are more prolific, but we never adjust the old timer down for the fact that media coverage has changed. In Unitas’ heyday, sportswriters were almost uniformly fawning and invested in mythmaking. The football media was also rather primitive, compared to the modern football mass media and to baseball media of the time, so players weren’t scrutinized heavily or scouted minutely. We don’t have detailed scouting reports documenting every minor Unitas mistake, long columns explaining how Unitas lacks the courage or gumption to defeat Bart Starr, or bloggers making fun of Unitas’ post-interception facial expressions. We had a hero-champion-warrior king. You cannot compare that bronze bust to the guy who will take the field in September (I type this with ever-increasing confidence) and possibly lose or throw two interceptions. You have to make harsh judgments when comparing old legends to new. You have to notice the fact that from 1961-63 Unitas was the third-to-fifth best quarterback in a 14-team league. You have to remember that Colts did just fine without him the year they reached Super Bowl III, a sign that his “leadership” was not all that important to a team that did darn well with his backup at the helm.

"There are other things to adjust for. Unitas won three titles. Winning an NFL championship in 1958 and 1959 meant winning one championship game, no playoffs. The other title came in 1971, when the NFL Colts got to share a division with four newly-arrived AFL teams, three of them terrible. The Jets, Bills, and Patriots combined to win seven games the year the Colts won Super Bowl V. This sounds like I am picking away at Unitas, and I don’t mean to do that to one of the best quarterbacks ever. I am just explaining that “adjustment” is a two-way street. Unitas’ 1950s Colts won 12-team leagues. It was an accomplishment, and a sign of excellence, but not a cudgel that can be used to beat another player over the head for winning a 32-team league “only” once.

"There’s a reflexive need to argue against Manning’s greatness, and I noticed it when looking through the message boards in the last few weeks when some of you were anticipating this Colts list. For Manning, we have amazing stats, wins, and longevity. Leadership that in any other era would be universally lauded. Uniqueness and durability at a position where a missed game is potentially a disaster. We toss them all away and point to a handful of playoff losses. The problem isn’t bad here at Football Outsiders, where you guys really delve into the evidence and come away with measured conclusions. In other places, it is pathologically nutty, and some of them aren't even Patriots fansites."

The entire piece is worth a read. And a re-read. And a bookmark.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Colts -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 20.

The Colts, of course, had a long and storied history as Baltimoreans. It’s often easy for the purposes of this blog to trim them into just the 1984-and-after Indianapolis Colts. It helps their scope fit more neatly with the reinvented Titans and expansion Jaguars and Texans.

But for something like this it’s too neat. So we weighed things to Indianapolis, but put perhaps the franchise’s biggest moment -- which came well before the move -- on our list and invite you to suggest others if you feel they are worthy.

"The Greatest Game Ever Played" -- the Colts' 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game -- changed the fortunes of the NFL. Did it do as much for the team that won it?

The team's move from Baltimore in the dark of night is certainly a flash point worth considering, as is the draft selection of John Elway the year before. He so didn’t want to play for the mismanaged Baltimore Colts that he forced the team to trade him.

The most modern entry often seems, in great hindsight, to have been a no-brainer. But the Colts and team president Bill Polian were torn between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998. Who knows what would have happened if they went the other way?

You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

Colts to wear sweet throwbacks

August, 3, 2010
[+] EnlargeCotls Throwback Uniform
ColtsIndianapolis will don these throwback jerseys during the August 15 preseason game.
Baltimoreans may want to skip the highlights of the Colts-49ers preseason game on August 15.

The Colts will wear these sweet 1955 throwback uniforms as they connect with their past.

It’s always a bit awkward when a relocated team throws back to a time when they had absolutely no connection to their city. Had Raymond Berry, Alan Ameche or Art Donovan so much as have set foot in Indianapolis when the Colts wore those uniforms?

I doubt it, so I understand why people Maryland may hate this deal. (They would like it any better, I don’t suspect, if the Colts wore them for a game in Baltimore against the Ravens.)

People in Indy, however, are entitled to the history the Irsay family brought with them when they made the move in 1983.

So Baltimore will have to deal.
Chuck in Indy writes: Your blog was about the AFC South which was created in 2002. You can`t go back before that with the Colts because they were in the AFC East prior to 2002. Why did you overlook the Titans/Oilers old records?

Paul Kuharsky: If you look at it again, you’ll find Houston teams are first and second runners-up. So how did I overlook them?

The assignment was the best team in each franchise’s history. If their history extends beyond realignment -- and they all do except Houston -- then all that was considered. You wanted best teams since realignment? Boy would that have been boring.

Bond Brady from NYC writes: You are a disgrace to the profession of journalism. The Baltimore Colts should never be included with the version in Indy when discussing greatest teams. As long as you perpetuate the lie that Johnny Unitas played for Indy your journalistic integrity is in jeopardy. The 1958 Baltimore Colts should be included under the Baltimore Ravens. You need to either take a history lesson or go back to journalism school to learn about integrity. Until you do, your writings are a disgrace to world of sports.

Paul Kuharsky: Interesting world view.

I suggest you get yourself a Colts media guide. It includes all the Baltimore Colts' history. I didn’t decide the franchise would carry its history to Indianapolis. The team and the league did, and they are allowed to make such a decision. The Irsays own the franchise. They can do with it what they want. It’s pretty simple, really.

By the way, that’s the way it’s worked for every team that’s relocated with only one exception, when the Browns turned into the Ravens and left their history in Cleveland. Warren Moon played for the Oilers who are now the Titans. It would be foolish to say he played for the Texans.

I never said Unitas played for Indy. I said he played for the Colts. That’s indisputable. The franchise is the Colts -- not Baltimore or the Ravens or even Indianapolis, but the Colts.

So I’ve not committed any sort of journalistic crime, and you really should take a breath.

Andy in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Now, I'm not trying to belabor this point but I can't believe you think Colts have such a significant talent level over the Jaguars. I'm assuming you're just considering starters because I'd take the Jaguars TEs over the Colts. Is Dallas Clark better than Marcedes Lewis? Depends on what you're judging, as a pass catcher, yes, as a blocker no way. The fact you think the Colts LBs are better still blows me away. Gary Brackett? Really, Paul? You consider Clint Session better than Daryl Smith? The same Daryl Smith that rated as the Number One Outside 4-3 Linebacker. As for the Colts CBs, why? Is Kelvin Hayden really better than Rashean Mathis? Is Jerraud Powers better than Derek Cox? They've got a better pass rush up front but as far as talent goes, it's a tie. Come on, Paul. I'm not saying the Jags are as talented as the Colts, but I think some positions need to be re-evaluated.

Paul Kuharsky: Dallas Clark is better at doing what the Colts ask him to do than Marcedes Lewis is at what the Jaguars ask him to do. Pretty simple.

And sight unseen, outside of OTA work, I think Brody Eldridge gives Indy a boost at the position too. Ernest Wilford’s had an excellent offseason in Jacksonville. Still, advantage Colts.

Gary Brackett is excellent, as is Clint Session. They are two guys. Daryl Smith is one. Advantage Colts. (Pro Football Focus is very interesting. But not always gospel.)

The Colts’ corners were a major part of a defense that limited big plays. As a group, the corners are better in their system than the Jaguars’ are in theirs.

I don’t mean to beat up on the Jaguars, who are moving in a pretty good direction. But the talent gap is significant and I am not compelled to offer any changes to my scorecard.

Best Colts Team Ever: 1958

June, 29, 2010
[+] EnlargeJohnny Unitas/Raymond Berry
NFL/Getty ImagesJohn Unitas and Raymond Berry led the 1958 Colts to victory in "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Notable players: QB John Unitas, WR Raymond Berry, LT Jim Parker, HB Lenny Moore, RB Alan Ameche, DT Gene Lipscomb, DE Don Joyce, DE Gino Marchetti, DT Art Donovan.

Analysis: It’s very difficult to choose against the 1958 NFL champions, who took the crown with an overtime win in "The Greatest Game Ever Played." That win over the Giants at Yankee Stadium avenged a regular-season road loss to New York and did much to propel the NFL and football to prominence.

It’s prompted books with subtitles like “The Birth of the Modern NFL” and “How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever.”

And Baltimore’s lineup featured six players -- Berry, Donovan, Marchetti, Moore, Parker and Unitas -- who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as is their coach, Weeb Ewbank.

These Colts were 6-0 at home and finished 10-3. Before the title tilt, they’d won by an average of 17 points and only once by a margin as small as seven. Their three losses were by 14 points. While Unitas threw 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions, the offense was really run-based with 24 rushing touchdowns and an average of 177.3 ground yards per game.

The defense posted even more impressive numbers, allowing only nine touchdown passes while intercepting 35 passes. Safeties Andy Nelson and Ray Brown had eight interceptions each.

And, before you fire off that e-mail: Sorry if Indy folks don't like it, but yes, Baltimore and Indianapolis are the same franchise. Check the nickname, check the record books, check with the league. We're following its lead. This is what happens with relocated teams, with only the Browns/Ravens exception.

Most impressive win: Did we mention "The Greatest Game Ever Played?"

Research room: The 1958 Colts were the first team in league history to win a game in overtime, regular season or postseason.

Honorable mentions:

1959: These Baltimore Colts finished 9-3 and beat the Giants for the title again, with the same core of eventual Hall of Famers the 1958 team had.

1968: The famous clip of Joe Namath running off the field, his raised index finger wagging, overshadows these Baltimore Colts. They outscored opponents 402-144 and won the NFL title but lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets in another game crucial to the league’s growth.

2006: Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts went 16-4 and their four-game playoff run produced a Super Bowl title. Yes, 2005 may have been a better team, but this one gets the nod because it got the trophy.

1970: In the last five seconds of Super Bowl V, rookie kicker Jim O'Brien’s 32-yard field goal lifted the Baltimore Colts to victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Best Colts team of all time

May, 10, 2010
For an upcoming project, I need to select the best Colts team of all time.

While I know a lot of Colts fans consider Indianapolis a different team than Baltimore, for this we’re looking at all the Colts teams, from Maryland and Indiana.

So I am looking for your input as I sort through the bests.

We start with the championship teams:

  • The 1958 Colts were 10-3 and beat the Giants for the NFL title in overtime at Yankee Stadium in what became known as The Greatest Game Ever Played. Four starters on offense and one on defense are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • The 1959 Colts were 10-3 after their NFL championship game win over the Giants. They had the same five Pro Bowlers as the 1958 team.
  • The 1968 Colts were 15-2, won the NFL title but lost Super Bowl III to the Jets in a game that really solidified the merger that was completed in 1970. These Colts had eight Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup.
  • The 1970 Colts were 14-2-1and beat Dallas in Super Bowl V.
  • The 2006 Colts were 16-4 and beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI. Five players on offense were Pro Bowlers in the first Super Bowl appearance for the franchise since its move to Indianapolis.
Please let me know what you think.
It wouldn’t have been hard to predict the AFC South names connected to’s all-time first-round draft team.

Just one player made the offense or defense: Oilers-Texans offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, now an assistant coach for the Texans, is a starter at guard.

His close friend, Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchak, was one of the players mentioned for consideration in the group behind him.

Also earning consideration: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Baltimore Colts guard Jim Parker.

Nobody even made the mentions for defense.

If you’ve not plugged into this series, here are some handy links: Rounds 6, 7 and beyond, Rounds 4 and 5 and Rounds 2 and 3.
The AFC South's presence on Sheldon Spencer’s all-time third- and second-round teams isn’t major.

Nobody made the all third-round team, and only Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea made the list of others considered.

Two Baltimore Colts earned spots on the all second-round team: tight end John Mackey and linebacker Ted Hendricks.

Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew was mentioned as a consideration at running back

Here’s the rundown of how this massive project was pieced together.
In’s continuing series on all-time round-by-round draft teams, we’ve got some AFC South players to hit on.

Colts defensive end Robert Mathis is on the fifth-round team, for which Oilers cornerback Cris Dishman and new Jaguars defensive end Aaron Kampman also received consideration.

On the fourth-round team, Jerry Logan, a safety drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1963 is a starter beside Chuck Cecil, the Titans' defensive coordinator.

Three players connected to the division made the also-considered list for the fourth round: Colts defensive tackle Tony McCoy (1992), Jaguars defensive tackle Seth Payne (1997) and cornerback Rod Perry (Rams, 1975), who’s a defensive assistant on the Colts’ staff.

Here is a review of how the selection process worked.
Sheldon Spencer, an NFL editor at HQ, has been digging through draft history for the past several weeks to assemble round-by-round all-star teams.

Here’s a description of the process -- AFL drafts aren’t a piece of this until the NFL and AFL merged drafts in 1967. We’re talking about players who performed well with the franchise who drafted them.

The AFC South’s had a lot fewer picks than any other division in the NFL since the Jaguars and Texans have not been operating for long and the Titans only date back to that 1967 draft. The Colts have candidates dating back to 1953. Indianapolis and Tennessee are sure to have multiple entries in the series that take us back to Baltimore and Houston.

Here’s the seventh-round and beyond team.

The Colts' Raymond Berry is the division’s lone representative.

Three others earned mentions in the also considered category: Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, Colts defensive tackle Fred Miller, Oilers safety Ken Houston. Also of note in the also considered category is Earnest Byner, now running backs coach in Jacksonville.

Here’s the sixth-round all-star club.

Oilers linebacker Al Smith, and Colts safety Antoine Bethea make the team.

Colts linebacker Cato June was considered, as were a couple of Bos from the Oilers: Bo Orlando and Bo Scaife.

Stay tuned for more division-specific details as other teams are unveiled. On Wednesday, we get the fifth and fourth rounds, Thursday the third and second and Friday the first.

I'm loving Wayne's respect for Berry

December, 11, 2009
Reggie Wayne already ranks ahead of Raymond Berry in receptions, 659 to 631 and 100-yard games, 30 to 23.

In the not so distant future he’ll pass the Hall of Famer in yards (his 9,164 is 111 short of Berry) and touchdowns (his 62 are six behind Berry).

Raymond Berry
Photo by Vernon Biever/NFL/Getty ImagesRaymond Berry played for the Baltimore Colts from 1955 to 1967.
I’m not a huge NFL historian and am young enough that I knew Berry more as a so-so coach of the Patriots, not as a Hall of Fame receiver for Baltimore in the 50s and 60s.

In April 2008, years removed from playing or coaching, I developed a great deal of respect after I found this excerpt from Mark Bowden’s book, “The Best Game Ever” in Sports Illustrated.

I think it should be mandatory reading for all incoming NFL players for the lessons it teaches about the intricacies of being prepared for everything and anything. Just the section on his cleat selection for the 1958 title game at Yankee Stadium, made me a giant Berry fan.

Wayne has an appreciation for Berry, and it’s another reason to appreciate Wayne, who plays in an era when so many guys are not concerned with NFL history or their predecessors.

Here’s what Wayne told Indy reporters this week when asked about Berry:

“I believe that he’s helped paved the way. He’s one of those guys that did it and did it the right way, and gave us young bucks the opportunity to go in and try to hunt him down a little bit. He’s a great person. I’ve met him a few times. Whenever my name is mentioned in the same category with him, it is always an honor.”