4 Greatest Colts of All-Time Revealed

The Colts franchise has quite a history of legendary names, but these four players are the greatest ever.
Unknown Date 1964; Unknown Location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Baltimore Colts defensive end (89) GINO MARCHETTI during the 1964 season. Mandatory Credit: Photo By David Boss- USA TODAY Sports © Copyright David Boss
Unknown Date 1964; Unknown Location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Baltimore Colts defensive end (89) GINO MARCHETTI during the 1964 season. Mandatory Credit: Photo By David Boss- USA TODAY Sports © Copyright David Boss / David Boss-USA TODAY Sports
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Each of the 32 NFL franchises has experienced historic performances, legendary seasons, and unforgettable moments on the gridiron through the years. But no team is present without the gladiators who take the field every week to entertain the fans while pushing for Lombardi hardware. In a recent episode from NFL Throwback, each franchise has a unique four-player Mount Rushmore treatment to name the best names to grace the jerseys.

For the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore and Indy eras are represented: Gino Marchetti, Johnny Unitas, Marvin Harrison, and Peyton Manning. In this article, we'll discuss each one of the legendary players when they were Colts and how they contributed to what the organization is today.

Gino Marchetti | Defensive End (1953-1966)

Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti makes a tackle while wearing a white uniform with dark grey trim.
Nov 11, 1962; Los Angeles, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Baltimore Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti (89) hits Los Angeles Rams running back Jon Arnett (26) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports / Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

Without the Baltimore era, there is no Indianapolis era for the Colts. But it's imperative to appreciate the old guard who played the most physical form of professional football. Marchetti was one of the first of his kind at defensive end, brutalizing offensive linemen and anyone holding the pigskin.

Starting his career with the then-Dallas Texans in 1952 and making nearly no impact, he transitioned to the Baltimore Colts in 1953 and never looked back. Playing during an era where sacks weren't credited to a player (1982 was the first year), Marchetti still finished his illustrious career with 56.0 in his last six seasons (1960-1966). This is an incredible metric considering his first eight seasons were his prime, yet sacks weren't accounted for.

Marchetti helped define the defensive end and was one of the players to carve a blueprint for wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and ball carriers. While fellow Hall of Famer Deacon Jones likely was the most dominant edge rusher of his time, Marchetti also imprinted himself as a massive threat to any opponents for the Colts, helping pave the way for the future of pass rushing. Below are Marchetti's career achievements, showing his dominance in the earliest days of pro football:

  • 11-time Pro Bowler
  • Seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection
  • Two-time NFL champion
  • NFL's 1950's All-Decade team
  • NFL Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 1972)
  • Number 89 jersey retired by the Colts organization

Johnny Unitas | Quarterback (1956-1972)

Colts legend Johnny Unitas throws a pass against the opponent while wearing a blue uniform with white pants/helmet.
Sep 17, 1972; Baltimore, MD, USA; FILE PHOTO; Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas (19) in action against the St. Louis Cardinals at Memorial Stadium. The Colts defeated the Cardinals 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports / Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports

A name synonymous with professional football, Unitas was one of the greatest field generals to ever play the game. During a time in the sport when defensive players could run through the quarterback (even after a pass), Unitas was an iron man and essential in helping define the modern-day NFL QB in its earliest stages.

Playing when offenses primarily ran the football, Unitas was unique to the times for his ability to throw downfield with accuracy. In his 17 campaigns in Baltimore, Unitas dazzled with 2,796 completions for 39,768 passing yards and 287 passing scores. While Unitas also tossed 246 picks in a Colts uniform, this era of pro football was far more vertical with passing schemes. Even then, most teams worked around the ground game and limited passing attempts if possible because defenders got away with far more in coverage, leading to turnovers or broken-up passes.

While Unitas finished his Hall of Fame career (Class of 1979) with the San Diego Chargers, he is forever a vital member of Colts and NFL history. Unitas has an award list as long as The Nile to cap off a career reserved for a legend:

  • Three-time MVP
  • 10-time Pro Bowler
  • Five-time First-Team All-Pro selection
  • Three-time NFL champion
  • Super Bowl V champion
  • NFL's 1960's All-Decade team
  • 1970 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner
  • NFL Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 1979)
  • Number 19 jersey retired by the Colts organization

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Marvin Harrison | Wide Receiver (1996-2008)

Colts receiver Marvin Harrison talks to his quarterback about the next play. They're wearing white uniforms with blue trim.
Jan. 13, 2007; Baltimore, MD, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback (18) Peyton Manning and wide receiver (88) Marvin Harrison talk during the Colts 15-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in their AFC Divisional Playoff game at M & T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports Copyright © 2007 Geoff Burke / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A former Syracuse Orange pass-catcher, Harrison was drafted by Indianapolis with the 19th overall selection in 1996. Harrison showed talents immediately with a bad Colts team led by then-QB Jim Harbaugh. In his first two campaigns, the team went an abysmal 10-20, but Harrison thrived given the circumstances. He kicked off his career with 137 catches for 1,702 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two years. However, things changed to meteoric status for Harrison, and quickly.

Once the Colts drafted Manning with the first-overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft, Harrison immediately made a connection with Manning. This would become one of the most devastating offensive duos in NFL history.

Harrison stood around 6 feet tall and about 190 pounds, but played as large as it came. From 1999 to 2002 alone, Harrison compiled an insane 469 catches for 6,322 receiving yards and 52 scores. He also set the NFL record for most receptions in a single season (143 in 2002). This mark stood for nearly two decades until Michael Thomas broke the record in 2019 with the New Orleans Saints (149 catches).

Harrison's biggest moment came in 2006 when the Colts brought the first-ever Super Bowl to Indianapolis, defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI. Harrison called it a career a few seasons later in 2008, allowing fellow star pass-catcher Reggie Wayne to become the go-to weapon.

Harrison's Hall of Fame (Class of 2016) career spanned 13 seasons and gave defenses reason to fear Indianapolis. Along with Manning, Harrison carved out sensational performances that many fans of Indy (and other teams) won't forget anytime soon. Below is a laundry list of accolades for Harrison's prestigious NFL tenure:

  • Eight-time Pro Bowler
  • Three-time First-Team All-Pro selection
  • Super Bowl XLI champion
  • NFL's 2000's All-Decade team
  • Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor inductee (2011)
  • NFL Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 2016)

Peyton Manning | Quarterback (1998-2011)

Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass while wearing a white uniform with blue trim.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning returned to save the day as the Colts won 38-35 in Monday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Oct. 5, 2003. / Matt Detrich / USA TODAY NETWORK

Arguably the most recognizable name in Colts history, Manning was a surgical genius as a field general during his NFL career. While Manning did conclude his final four years with the Denver Broncos (2012-2015), nearly all of his success came as the Indianapolis QB for 13 years.

Until his final season in 2011 (missed the year due to neck surgery), Manning played (and started) all 208 games and destroyed most competition after he found his footing as an NFL quarterback. Along with Harrison, Wayne, and head coach Tony Dungy, Manning torched the 2000's, even setting the single-season passing touchdowns record (49; 2004). Fellow Hall of Famer Dan Marino held the record of 48 for 20 years until Manning supplanted the Miami Dolphins legend.

Manning also notched two Super Bowl appearances as the QB for Indianapolis (2006, 2009), winning XLI against the Bears and falling short to the Saints in 2009 (Super Bowl XLIV; 31-17). When Manning was done with his tenure in Indy, he finished with a 141-67 record, 4,682/7,210 completions for 54,828 passing yards, 399 touchdowns to 198 interceptions. He also added an overlooked 17 rushing touchdowns in a Colts uniform.

The greatest player in Colts history has a trophy case that is likely busting at the nails to contain his hardware. Along with the accolades, he is likely responsible for Lucas Oil Stadium ever being built in 2008, which is why many coin it "The House that Peyton Built." Below is a list of Manning's accomplishments that only a few players in even the NFL Hall of Fame can compare to:

  • Five-time MVP (most in NFL history)
  • 14-time Pro Bowler
  • Seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection
  • Two-time Super Bowl champion (XLI w/ Colts, 50 w/Broncos)
  • Super Bowl XLI MVP
  • NFL's 2000s All-Decade team
  • 2005 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner
  • 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
  • All-time leader in passing touchdowns in a season (55 in 2013 with Broncos)
  • All-time leader in passing yards in a season (5,477 in 2013 with Broncos)
  • Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor inductee (2017)
  • NFL Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 2021)

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Drake Wally


Drake Wally covers the Indianapolis Colts at Horseshoe Huddle and co-hosts the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast.