This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player and how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
To see all the category page for this series, of which there will be one for every franchise, click here.
The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts edition of Ultimate Franchise Player is truly a Tale of Two Cities.
The franchise’s history is a house divided, with now equal time spent in Maryland before infamously getting on the Mayflower and leaving under cover of a dark, snowy night.
There have now been greats who have donned the Blue Horseshoe in both venues, but they do not cross-pollinate too well.
Of course it is two quarterbacks who rise higher than all others on this list, one representing the early Baltimore era and the other representing Indianapolis.
But the team’s history and identity remained after the move to the heartland (despite former Baltimore players asking to be removed from the franchise’s statistical records), so all players in Colts history remain mentioned as one.
As Echo And the Bunnymen would say – Bring On the Dancing Horses.
Alan Ameche (RB 1955-60)
You might as well start the list with the Horse himself, who is also arguably the greatest athlete in University of Wisconsin history and the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner.
Ameche only played six years in the pros, all with the Colts as part of their 1958 and ’59 Championships. Ameche scored 44 regular season TDs during that span and was a Pro Bowl selection each year from 1955 through ’58.
One of the signature moments of NFL history remains Ameche crossing the goal line at Yankee Stadium, ending the first sudden-death overtime Championship Game in 1958 and immediately being mobbed by fans.
Ameche had heart problems beginning in his 40s and passed away at age 55 in 1988.
Gino Marchetti (DE 1952-66)
Another vintage moment from that ’58 Colts/Giants Championship Game:
Late in regulation New York needed just one more first down to run out the clock and win the title. On third down the ball was handed off to Frank Gifford, who was ultimately stopped by Gino Marchetti. It would be the end of Marchetti’s day, as he suffered a broken ankle on the play. Of equal importance however was whether Gifford actually made the line to gain.
As part of a 50th anniversary replay of the game in 2008, ESPN attempted to show the play using the graphic first down line used in telecasts today. The ensuing measurement ended up having Gifford just short. The Giants punted, the Colts drove down the field for the tying field goal, and the rest was history.
Marchetti ended up missing that year’s Pro Bowl, but it was the only time in an 11-year span that he would not play in that game. In addition to being an 11-time selection (1955 through ’65), Marchetti was also named All-NFL nine times and was ranked 39th on the NFL Network’s All-Time Top 100 list.
Big Daddy Lipscomb (DL 1956-60)
At 6’6”, 300 lbs, Lipscomb was enormous, particularly for his era. Growing up in Detroit, Lipscomb did not attend college but was discovered by NFL scouts while he was serving at Camp Pendleton with the U.S. Marines.
Big Daddy would play 10 years in the league with the Rams, Colts, and Steelers – earning All-Pro recognition after the ’58 and ’59 seasons. Lipscomb was one of the most intimidating presences in the league. He specialized in head-slapping the ear-holes of opposing linemen.
Lipscomb also dabbled in the pro wrestling world during the off-season later in his career. In May 1963 Lipscomb collapsed and died from a heroin overdose after a night of partying. A medical examiner would later say that Lipscomb had consumed enough dope to kill five men.
Raymond Berry (WR 1955-67)
If looking for a speedy athletic physical specimen, Berry is not your guy. But if you were looking for someone to run precise routes and simply catch the ball, Raymond was your man.
Berry did not start as a high schooler and didn’t do much playing for Southern Methodist University, but he ended up being the perfect companion for quarterback Johnny Unitas. In the 1958 Championship Game, Berry caught 12 passes for 178 yards. Five of those receptions came in the final drive of regulation and the game-winning overtime drive.
Post-career, Berry landed on the New England Patriots coaching staff and became head man in 1984. The following season he would lead the Patriots to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
In 1999 The Sporting News ranked Berry as the 40th best player all time.
Art Donovan (DT 1951-61)
Donovan’s career actually started with the first incarnation of the Baltimore Colts in 1950. After that franchise folded, Donovan moved on to the New York Yanks in 1951, who became the Dallas Texans in 1952 before moving to Baltimore the following year. It would be in Baltimore where Donovan’s career reached its zenith, earning Pro Bowl selections annually from 1953 through ’57.
Donovan became a Hall of Fame selection in 1968 and remains iconic as one of Baltimore’s all-time best players and characters.
Jim Parker (OL 1957-67)
A first round pick out of Ohio State in 1957, Parker would earn All-Pro selection in each of the following ten years.
Playing both guard and tackle during his career, Parker ranked No. 24 in the Sporting News all-time top 100 list in 1999, behind only John Hannah and Anthony Munoz at those positions. On the NFL Network’s more recent top-100 list, Parker is ranked No. 32.
Lenny Moore (RB 1956-67)
Lenny was actually a halfback/receiving hybrid. At the peak of his career he averaged 90+ carries and 40+ receptions per season. He also would had been a good choice for fantasy football if it had existed in his era. For his career, Lenny found the end zone 113 times, scoring 19 times alone in 1964.
The NFL Network’s list of top-100 all-time players in 2010 had Lenny checking in at No. 94.
Bubba Smith (DE 1967-71)
He was the first overall pick in the first ‘common’ draft (involving both AFL and NFL teams) in 1967 and one of four Michigan State players to be picked in the top eight overall. The 1966 Michigan St. team was the squad that played to the infamous 10-10 tie at Notre Dame.
Smith would later also play with the Raiders and Oilers before embarking on an acting career.
Mike Curtis (LB 1965-75)
Are you one of those guys who are tempted to someday run onto a playing field during a game – and actually feel the subsequent arrest/fine/and being tackled and possibly tasered by authorities would be worth the social media notoriety. Well than let me point you to an early 1970s incident when a fan ran onto Memorial Stadium only to be knocked cold by Mike Curtis during the peak of his career.
Deranged fans were not the only ones whom Curtis unleashed his fury on during his 14 years in the league. Curtis unofficially recorded 22 sacks, and also picked off 25 passes, as one of the premier pass rushers of his day.
Earl Morrall (QB 1968-71)
With Johnny Unitas suffering a season-ending injury during the team’s final pre-season game in 1968, Morrall became the starter and won NFL MVP honors, only to be the losing quarterback in the Colts Super Bowl III upset at the hands of the New York Jets.
Morrall would relieve an injured Unitas again in the Super Bowl two years later, and this time ultimately led the team to victory. In all, Morrall had a 21-year career in the league with several clubs.
Ted Hendricks (LB 1969-73)
Also a participant in my recent Packers 64-player UFP field, Hendricks began his career in Baltimore teaming with Mike Curtis. The Super Bowl V winning squad was among the NFL’s best in defending the run.
John Mackey (TE 1963-71)
Simply put, he revolutionized the position of tight end, which has ultimately developed into the hybrid position it is today.
Mackey’s signature play was his disputed 75-yard TD reception during Super Bowl V, which initially deflected off a Colts teammate before grazing the hand of Cowboys safety Mel Renfro, making the play legal again (under 1970 rules) for Mackey to make the reception.
Mackey is also remembered for being one of the early leaders of the NFL Players Associations. Suffering from football-related dementia in his later years, Mackey reportedly became confused/angry seeing Marvin Harrison wear his old number during games.
Bert Jones (QB 1973-81)
Bert Jones overcame childhood health problems in which he walked pigeon-toed to become the No. 2 overall pick of the 1973 draft. He is considered one of the best of a deep line of QBs to come out of the state of Louisiana.
Jones led the Colts to playoff appearances following the 1975 through 1977 seasons and finished with a QB rating of over 100 in 1976. He is one of only three quarterbacks to finish over 100 during the decade of the 1970s.
Shoulder problems ended Jones’ career prematurely, but he entered the NFL Quarterback Challenge in 1990. At age 39, Jones finished first among retired QBs and third in the regular competition. His arm remains one of the strongest of all time.
Lydell Mitchell (RB 1972-77)
One of the line of Penn State running backs to come out during the early Joe Paterno era, Lydell was a dual threat, rushing for more than 1,000 yards three consecutive years and catching 60 or more passes four times during his time in Baltimore.
Jim Harbaugh (QB 1994-97)
Now known much more as a head coach, Jim Harbaugh played for six teams in all during his playing career, most notably leading the Colts to the 1995 AFC Championship game, where the team narrowly lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Marshall Faulk (RB 1994-98)
Although the bulk of career totals would come later with the St. Louis Rams, Faulk was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1994 draft after a historic career at San Diego State University.
Faulk rushed for over 1,000 yards in four of his five years in Indianapolis, and in his final season with the Colts also caught 86 passes out of the backfield, including Peyton Manning’s first pass completion.
Edgerrin James (RB 1999-2005)
Jame rushed for over 12,000 yards in his entire NFL career, going over 1,500 yards rushing on four occasions with the Colts. He went over 2,000 yards combined yards from scrimmage three times, including 2,303 yards total in 2000.
Edge was a fantasy football stud his first two years in the league, scoring 35 times.
Marvin Harrison (WR 1996-2008)
Harrison had the extremely good fortune of reaching the peak of his career just as Peyton Manning came to town. He went over 100 catches in a season four times, including a paranormal 143 catches in 2002, 20 more than any other single-season total.
Harrison becomes eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame following the 2013 season; odds are good he will get there first-ballot or shortly after.
Reggie Wayne (WR 2001-present)
His career resume stands just a half-tick behind that of Marvin Harrison at this point, and he gets bonus credit for staying around in the post-Manning era. Wayne has caught more than 100 passes four times in his career, including Andrew Luck’s just-completed rookie season in 2012.
Dwight Freeney (DE 2002-present)
Easily the most recognized defensive player in Colts history, Freeney has recorded double-digit sack totals in seven of his 11 years in the league.
Jeff Saturday (C 1999-2011)
A hallmark of the Peyton Manning era was the performance of the offensive line, who took great pride in keeping Manning’s jersey clean. Of the lineman, Saturday had the most tenure and his cohesion with Peyton.
Saturday ended up earning five Pro Bowl appearances in his Colts career while starting 188 games.
Andrew Luck (QB 2012-present)
Like Peyton Manning before him, Luck started straight out of the box as a rookie and led his team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth from 2-14 previous season. He’s off to a good start, but he has light years to go before even having a chance to touch our two finalists…
Up next are the selections for “The Final Two” and the player who will be named the Colts Ultimate Franchise Player.