Colts Roundtable: How To Cope with the Loss of the Legendary Marvin Harrison

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIMarch 8, 2009

With the release of Marvin Harrison, the Indianapolis Colts must now learn to cope with the loss of a true legend. The contributions of Marvin Harrison to the Indianapolis Colts organization are both impossible to understate and strenuous to contemplate.

It goes without saying that he will be forever missed, so the Colts roundtable is back to tackle another important issue.

What is it that Marvin Harrison contributed to the Colts during his 13-years of service?


How will the team be able to cope with his loss in 2009?

These are the questions we hope to answer. In an effort to better explain this situation, I've employed the services of Eric, who I feel the be one of the most ambitious and best upcoming sports-writers here on bleacher report.This is what Eric had to say regarding what Marvin Harrison has done for the Indianapolis Colts over the past 13 years...

During the course of Marvin Harrison’s 13-year career with the Indianapolis Colts, he emerged as one of the most productive wide receivers in NFL history.

Not only did Marvin Harrison’s career with the Colts earn him high rankings in the career lists for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns; but during it Marvin Harrison also set some single season and consecutive season receiving records that may never be broken. 

Marvin Harrison holds the single-season receptions record with 143 in 2002, which outpaces the previous record holder by an astonishing 20 receptions. Additionally, Marvin Harrison is the only player in NFL history with four consecutive seasons of at least 100 receptions, which he accomplished from 1999 to 2002. 

He is also the only player in NFL history with four consecutive seasons of at least 1,400 receiving yards, which he also accomplished from 1999 to 2002.

Beyond the numbers, Marvin Harrison’s quiet determination and work ethic allowed him to combine his speed, great route running, and reliable hands to become the heart and soul of the Indianapolis Colts receiving squad.

Despite his aloof nature, Marvin Harrison cast himself as one of the NFL’s most identifiable players with his performance on the field. 

While other high profile wide receivers of his time put themselves in the limelight with their loud mouths and off-the-field antics, Marvin Harrison let his actions on the field do his talking.

His career began to sizzle in 1999, the fourth season of his career, when his quarterback Peyton Manning came into his own in what was Manning’s second year in the league. Both players showed such tremendous dedication to their craft and worked together exhaustively to build an almost telepathic rapport on the field. 

With each of them knowing how his counterpart would read the same coverage, the Colts passing attack quickly developed into a finely tuned model of near perfect timing.

Peyton Manning was able to read the defense’s coverage and throw the ball even before Marvin Harrison finished his route because he knew that Harrison knew just where he was going to throw it.

This allowed Manning to fit the ball into tighter windows and get the ball out before pass rushers could get to him. 

Eventually, Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning went on to set all three major career receiving records for a quarterback and wide receiver tandem, capturing the records for completions, yards, and touchdowns to become the most productive quarterback and wide receiver tandem in NFL history.

While Marvin Harrison’s most prolific years were from 1999-2002, it wasn’t until fellow Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne emerged as a full-time starter in 2003 to complement Harrison that Peyton Manning began his best years and the Colts became annual contenders for the league’s crown.

Reggie Wayne’s emergence in 2003 and first 1,000 yard season in 2004 allowed the Colts passing attack to become even better and helped produce back-to-back league MVP honors for quarterback Peyton Manning. 

In 2004, Manning broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing touchdown record and Harrison, Wayne, and Brandon Stokley became the first set of three wide receivers on the same team to produce at least 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. 

After failing to win a single playoff game from 1999-2002, the Colts won three in 2003 and 2004 in very impressive fashion, averaging 42.7 points per game in those playoff victories and advancing to the AFC conference championship in 2003 and divisional round in 2004 before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in both seasons.

While Reggie Wayne’s emergence as a second wide receiver and the addition of Brandon Stokley as a third wide receiver marked greater prosperity for the team and its quarterback, these changes also marked a significant drop in Marvin Harrison’s production that continued into the 2005 and 2006 seasons. 

The Colts were no longer dependant on Marvin Harrison as their sole productive wide receiver since Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley had developed their own rapports with Peyton Manning. 

Having more wide receivers in tune with the complex offense resulted in Harrison seeing 23 percent fewer passes thrown his way per season from 2003-2006 compared to  1999-2002.  Consequently, Marvin Harrison also saw his receiving yardage per season fall 23 percent. 

In 2007, Marvin Harrison suffered an injury in the first quarter of the fourth game of the season that all but ended his season.

Harrison returned to action a few weeks later to face the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars but in a limited capacity. He did not return to the field again until the playoffs. 

Fortunately for the Colts, they had drafted wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez during the off-season to replace Brandon Stokley, and some speculated eventually Marvin Harrison. 

Little did the Colts know at the time that Anthony Gonzalez would be stepping in for Marvin Harrison that year.

All in all, it’s fair to say Peyton Manning and the Colts offense continued to roll on without Marvin Harrison in the 2007 regular season. Reggie Wayne responded to Harrison’s absence with a career year, posting 104 receptions and an NFL best 1,510 receiving yards, both easily career highs. 

Dallas Clark responded with his best season to date, posting 58 receptions, 616 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns; all of which were easily career highs for him through 2007. 

While Anthony Gonzalez only produced 576 receiving yards in his limited rookie year of 2007, he did so despite seeing only 51 passes thrown his way to average more receiving yards per pass than any other wide receiver in the league who had at least 300 receiving yards. 

In fact, Peyton Manning posted better numbers in 2007 for the games Anthony Gonzalez started in Marvin Harrison’s place than the ones Marvin Harrison started: a QB rating of 111.4 with Anthony Gonzalez compared to one of 103.7 with Marvin Harrison.

Marvin Harrison’s return for the 2007 playoffs against the San Diego Chargers turned out to be a very disappointing one. Marvin Harrison was only thrown to on 3 of 48 Peyton Manning pass attempts, giving him 2 receptions and 27 receiving yards on the game. Unfortunately, one of those two receptions resulted in a first quarter fumble in Charger territory that might have prevented the Colts from going up 14-0 and completely changing the nature of the game. 

Instead of taking a commanding lead, the Colts found themselves tied 7-7 after the Chargers’ subsequent drive and embroiled in a tight, back-and-forth game that saw the lead change six times with every score after that point. The Colts ultimately lost that game with Marvin Harrison on the bench, out of gas before the end of game for which he was clearly not in playing shape. 

Harrison’s regular season stand-in, Anthony Gonzalez, did impress in the game though, catching all four of the passes thrown to him for 79 yards, including a huge 55 yard catch and run down the sideline for a touchdown to retake the lead in the 4th quarter.  The big play was keyed by Anthony Gonzalez brilliantly maintaining his balance on the sideline while making the catch. It was so close that the Chargers tried unsuccessfully to challenge it.

Harrison’s 2008 season didn’t start out much better against the Chicago Bears. Late in the third quarter, with the Colts in possession of the ball and down by two points, Harrison fumbled again after making a reception—this one returned for a touchdown that put the Bears up by two scores. 

The Colts never recovered and wound up losing their season opener and first September game since 2004. This marked the beginning of a 2008 season that ultimately spelled the end of Harrison’s 13 year career with the Indianapolis Colts. 

With Peyton Manning coming off of two offseason knee surgeries that forced him to miss all of training camp and the preseason, and with center Jeff Saturday and guards Ryan Lilja and Mike Pollak all out with injuries to start the season, the Colts passing game looked nothing like itself. 

Not only were Marvin Harrison’s numbers down, but so were those of the Colts passing game as a whole. Peyton Manning clearly not playing like his normal self, and he was doing so behind a patchwork line that left at least one backup offensive lineman matched up directly against a Pro Bowl defensive linemen in all four of the Colts first four games of the season. 

Beginning with that fourth game of the season however, which marked the first time the Colts played with at least three of their five intended starting offensive linemen, Peyton Manning’s numbers on the season noticeably improved. Peyton Manning started the 2008 season with a QB rating of 73.1 in his first three games, but he finished it with a QB rating of 101.1 in the final 13 games. 

However, Peyton Manning and the Colts as a team didn’t really start to heat up until their eighth game of the season against their longtime rival the New England Patriots. At that point in the season, the Colts had a 3-4 record and were watching their playoff hopes slip away. That game became the beginning of a Colts nine game winning streak to close out the season. Manning posted a quarterback rating of 109.7 in the final nine games of the regular season during that streak. 

Peyton Manning only got hotter as the season wore on, posting a QB rating of 130.8 in the final four games of the season, which included setting a record for completion percentage in a single month.  Manning’s red hot 2008 finish earned him his third league MVP award, pairing him with Brett Favre as the only players in NFL history with three league MVP awards.

Unfortunately, while Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts offense and team as a whole picked up steam and regained their usual form to finish the season, Marvin Harrison never did. 

2008 went down as the worst season of his 13 year career with the Colts. It was the least productive season of his career other than 2007 when he missed more than two-thirds of the season.

It was the first time since before Peyton Manning arrived in Indianapolis that Marvin Harrison failed to reach the 1,000 receiving yard mark in a full season. 

That was what Eric had to say on Harrison's career and I personally do not know if I could have explained it any better. Here is my take...

What I do know is that Marvin Harrison had been a play-maker for a very long time. Almost never did a season go by where he did not perform as one of the league's absolute best receivers. The thing I valued most about Harrison was his consistency.

Marvin Harrison was selected to eight consecutive Pro Bowls from 1999 to 2006. Being a young Colts fan, I remember seeing Harrison perform at that high level and make the Pro Bowl from my first year of middle school to my first year of college.

That's absolute insanity.

People often beg the question, "Was it Peyton Manning who made Marvin Harrison or Marvin Harrison who made Peyton Manning?". I think we can tell from Eric's analysis that Manning has become almost just as effective in Harrison's absence and Anthony Gonzalez has not even had the opportunity to fully develop yet.

I certainly do not mean to take anything away from Marvin Harrison's illustrious career, but you can not deny the facts.

Peyton Manning just seems to manage to find other receivers to fill the void. That is not to say that Harrison's departure means nothing but it is a good that that Manning has already had to deal with a sample of being without No. 88.

Which brings us to our next question.

How will the Indianapolis Colts be able to fill the void left by Harrison's departure?

These were Eric's thoughts on the matter...

The Colts can address the loss of Marvin Harrison in a variety of ways, one of which includes doing almost nothing. 

Anthony Gonzalez has proven that he can take over for Marvin Harrison as an outside wide receiver in the Colts offense. I fully expect him with this opportunity to become a 1,000 yard receiver in 2009 as the compliment to Marvin Harrison’s teammate, Reggie Wayne. 

The real question is who will take over for Anthony Gonzalez as the Colts third wide receiver in the slot. The easiest answer to that is the same answer back in 2006: Dallas Clark. Although a tight end, Clark’s speed and versatility allows him to be split out as a legitimate slot receiver. 

Also, the Colts drafted another tight end who fits Clark’s mold in the 2008 draft: Jacob Tamme. He’s a lighter, faster version of Dallas Clark in a sense, who used to play wide receiver before being converted to tight end during his college career. 

With a year in the Colts offense under his belt, Tamme may be ready to take over the slot receiver role, which will allow Clark to retain his role as the Colts tight end. 

Of course the Colts also have a big athletic wide receiver in Roy Hall, whom they drafted in the 2007 draft along with Anthony Gonzalez.  Hall seems like a natural fit for the slot receiver role, but he spent his rookie season on the Colts injured reserve list and missed most of his second season with an injury as well. 

The Colts also have a speedy second year wide receiver in Pierre Garcon, who could presumably fill Marvin Harrison’s spot outside and allow Anthony Gonzalez to remain in the slot receiver role.  However, I don’t see that happening except in the case on injuries to other wide receivers.

I think the Colts will draft another wide receiver in the 2009 draft, but the question is at what round and for what purpose. 

The Colts could use their first rounder to find someone they expect to play the outside or slot wide receiver position almost immediately. Or they may be content with what they already have and draft another wide receiver in a middle or late round of the draft for insurance and depth. 

My guess is the Colts will draft a wide receiver somewhere in the third through fifth rounds.

I agree with Eric regarding the various options mentioned. Here's my personal take on the situation...

Most people feel that the Colts should use their first-round draft selection to take a defensive tackle.

That appears to be our most needy area as the Colts have long suffered from the inability to stop the run. The issue is, the one player who I feel would be worth that first round selection, Peria Jerry, might be gone by the time the Colts are on the draft-board.

There is a substantial drop in quality between Jerry and the runners-up at the defensive tackle position. If Jerry is gone by the time the Colts are on the board, I could potentially see them drafting a first-round receiver if there was one of true quality available.

As much as fixing various areas of the defense would help, the Colts would get more value and production out of a receiving target who would have the potential to become the next Marvin Harrison.

Still, I feel that this scenario is not a likely one. The Colts might be better off testing Anthony Gonzalez on a permanent basis this season and move forward from there.

I feel confident in Manning's ability to remain productive even in the wake of Harrison's departure. As we've already seen, being without Marvin had not hurt Manning's ability to remain productive.

When it's all said and done, the Colts have lost a true legend in Marvin Harrison. Although the team will be able to thrive in his absence, I would never want to undermine the value it was to have him. Marvin was one of the main contributors in transforming the Indianapolis Colts from league-doormat to perennial title contender.

Had it not been for the contributions of Marvin Harrison, the Colts might not have morphed into the super-power they have become today. Harrison will be forever missed by the people of Indianapolis and Colts fans around the world.

Two words can summarize my feelings towards Marvin Harrison for his 13 years of service in the city of Indianapolis...

Thank you.


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