The Colts franchise has been fortunate enough to have fielded two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history: Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Unitas carved his legend during the late '50s and throughout the '60s. A 10-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and first ballot selection for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Unitas won back-to-back NFL titles in '58 and '59 and earned a Super Bowl ring following the 1970 season. He was a fearless, natural leader who epitomized grace under pressure, and he held all major career passing records when he finally retired.
Peyton Manning's legacy is still being carved, but it's reasonable to believe that he could retire as the most prolific passer to ever play in the NFL. A model of proficiency and precision, Manning has eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in all but two of his 12 seasons (through 2009), earning himself 10 Pro Bowl berths and five All-Pro picks thus far. If he retired today, Manning would still be a first ballot inductee to Canton.
With these two leaders as the face of the Colts' franchise, it can be easy for fans to sometimes forget the men on the other end of the passes: the wide receivers and tight ends who helped build the reputations of Unitas and Manning (as well as the other QBs in franchise history). Among them are some of the greats to ever play at their positions (Lenny Moore, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Marvin Harrison), as well as some forgotten players who may not qualify as all-timers, but were dutiful performers for the Colt franchise (i.e. Jimmy Orr, Willie Richardson, Billy Brooks). They are all listed herein: a tribute to the standout receivers in Colts history.
Jim Mutscheller may not be as well-known as teammates John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, or Alan Ameche, but he was an integral part of the Colts offense for eight years, including the championship seasons of '58 and '59. A Notre Dame product, Mutscheller was originally drafted by the old New York Yanks in 1952, but after a two-year stint with the Marines, his contract was bought out by the Colts. He became the starting end in his second season, posting 33 catches for 518 yards and seven TDs. 1956 was perhaps his finest season statistically, as he made 44 grabs for 715 yards (both career highs) and six scores, but his only Pro Bowl berth came after the 1957 season, during which he led the NFL with eight TD receptions. For his career, Mutscheller's regular-season totals include 220 receptions, 3,684 yards, and 40 TD catches. His 6-yard sideline catch set up Alan Ameche's game-winning 1-yard blast to culminate the historic 1958 NFL Championship victory over the Giants.
Like Steve Largent years later, Raymond Berry proved that lack of speed and raw athleticism can be overcome by hard work, determination and devotion to one's craft. A 20th-round pick who caught only 33 balls during his three seasons at SMU, Berry wasn't expected to go far in the NFL. He defied the odds by becoming a starter in his second season, then had a remarkable stretch from 1957-60. He led the NFL with 800 receiving yards in '57, and his 56 catches for 794 yards and nine TDs were league-leading totals in '58. In 1959, Berry led the NFL in all receiving categories with 66 catches, 959 yards, and 14 TDs. He had his most productive year in 1960, with 74 receptions for 1,298 yards (both totals led the NFL) and 10 TDs. Berry was voted All-Pro each year from '58 through '60 and was voted to four- straight Pro Bowls ('58 through '61). Although he never quite reached the success of that period from '57-'61, Berry remained a reliable receiver (he did make the Pro Bowl in '63 and '64, as well) until he finally slowed down and retired following the 1967 season. His regular-season totals of 631 receptions and 9,275 yards (with 68 TDs) were NFL records at the time of his retirement, and they remained franchise records for more than 35 years, eventually surpassed by Marvin Harrison.
Berry's shining hour came during the 1958 Championship against the Giants: He recorded 12 receptions for 178 yards and a TD during the game, most of those catches coming during the fourth quarter and overtime, helping the Colts to a 23-17 victory.
Berry was enshrined in Canton in 1973, and he later took his wisdom and dedication to the coaching ranks, guiding the New England Patriots to a berth in Super Bowl XX.
Although listed as a halfback for the majority of his career, Lenny Moore did line up at wide receiver on occasion, and he often ran downfield pass patterns directly out of the backfield (as did many backs during his era), so he deserves a special mention as the greatest dual-purpose threat in team history. A first-round pick out of Penn State, Moore made an immediate impact during his rookie season, leading the NFL with 7.5 yards per rushing attempt and earning Pro Bowl and Rookie of the Year honors (although he caught only 11 passes). He was integrated into the passing game during his second season, making 40 receptions while leading the league with a 5.0 rushing average and 1,175 all-purpose yards. 1958-'61 were Moore's peak years—during this span, he never gained fewer than 1,268 all-purpose yards or scored less than eight TDs. He was a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection following each of these seasons. His production dropped in 1962 (just 685 total yards and four TDs), but he still made his fifth-straight Pro Bowl. Injuries cut into Moore's 1963 season, and his career seemed all but over. Undeterred, he returned in '64 with a terrific effort, amassing more than 1,000 total yards, leading the NFL with 19 total TDs and earning Comeback Player of the Year honors and his final Pro Bowl berth. It proved to be his last year of real production, but he hung on for a few more seasons, and, like Raymond Berry, retired following the 1967 campaign. His regular-season totals with the Colts include 5,174 rushing yards (a respectable 4.8 average), 363 receptions for 6,039 yards, and 113 total TDs (63 rushing, 48 receiving, one kick-return, one fumble-return). Moore's 113 TDs were second to only the great Jim Brown at the time of his retirement, and they stood as the Colts' franchise record for nearly 40 years. His numbers, along with his seven Pro Bowl and five All-Pro nods, speak for themselves, and he was an easy choice for Canton in 1975, two years after Berry.
Jimmy Orr had been the 1958 Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler the following year with the Pittsburgh Steelers before arriving in Baltimore in 1961. During that season, he caught only 18 balls, but he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and scored four TDs. 1962 saw him become a fixture in the Colts' offense, as he had his most productive season with 55 receptions, 974 yards, and 11 TDs (all career highs). He was an All-Pro selection following the 1965 season, during which he caught 45 passes for 847 yards and 10 TDs. After missing nearly all of 1967 with injury, Orr returned in '68 to post 29 receptions for 743 yards (for an NFL-leading 25.6 average) and six TDs for the NFL champs (who eventually lost Super Bowl III). He finally did earn a Super Bowl ring following the 1970 season and retired shortly thereafter, having produced 303 receptions, 5,849 yards, and 50 TDs for the Colts.
Although undersized (5'11", 185 pounds) and not especially fast, Orr was a shifty receiver who was extremely aware of his surroundings, which allowed him to get open—and once he caught the ball, he would rely on his halfback skills from his days at Georgia to elude would-be tacklers. It was through these talents that he was able to post such an impressive yards-per-catch average during his career (19.8 overall, 19.3 with the Colts). Based on this, Orr would not be categorized as a "deep" or "long-ball" threat (like Paul Warfield or Homer Jones), but rather a "big gain" threat anytime the ball was thrown in his direction.
Mackey, along with Mike Ditka and Jackie Smith, revolutionized the tight end position during the 1960s. Bigger than the ends and split ends of old, they could handle tougher blocking assignments (outside linebackers and defensive ends), yet they still had the agility to get open and catch the ball and the power to shed tacklers. People can argue themselves sick about which one was the best, so —for the sake of this slide show—let's just say Mackey is the best in Colts history.
He was a second-round pick out of Syracuse in 1963 and had a sensational rookie campaign, making 35 catches for 726 yards and seven TDs, which earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. Statistically, Mackey had a disappointing sophomore year, but he hit his stride in 1965 with 40 receptions, 814 yards, and seven TDs, earning the first of four-straight Pro Bowl berths. From '66 through '68, Mackey became the NFL's most feared tight end—he was voted All-Pro each of these seasons, with 1966 as his most productive campaign (50 catches, 829 yards, nine TDs). His production dropped after 1968, but he stuck around Baltimore long enough to earn a Super Bowl ring when the Colts defeated the Cowboys in Super Bowl V, 16-13. During that game, Mackey scored on a controversial 75-yard TD pass, which stood as a Super Bowl record for the longest TD pass/reception for more than a decade. He finished his career with one forgettable season in San Diego, but he will always be remembered for his accomplishments with the Colts, with whom he produced 320 receptions, 5,126 yards, and 38 TDs. It is a wonder why one of the finest tight ends in pro history wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame until 20 years after his retirement, which Mackey eventually was in 1992.
Tall (6'3", 200 pounds) and deceptively fast, Carr was a first-round draft choice from Louisiana Tech in 1974. He was used sparingly during his rookie season, but he did show the ability to burn opponents deep, making 21 receptions for 405 yards. He improved on those totals in '75, then had a breakout campaign in '76. He and quarterback Bert Jones got their timing down perfectly that year—Carr caught just 43 balls on the season, but he converted those catches for a league-leading 1,112 yards (25.9 average, also tops in the NFL) and 11 scores, earning him his only Pro Bowl berth. He damaged his leg during the 1977 season, and the Colts missed his services for the second half of the year and during their nail-biting 37-31 playoff loss to the Raiders. He returned to his starting post in '78 and again averaged more than 20 yards per catch, but he missed much of '79 with an ailing leg. He had a good comeback year in 1980, recording 61 catches (a career best) for 924 yards and five TDs, but it was his last year as the team's featured receiver. He moved on to Seattle in 1982, then finished his career in San Diego the following year. With the Colts, Carr registered 254 receptions for 4,770 yards (18.8 average) and 29 TDs. Like so many receivers, his legs kept him from reaching his full potential, but he remains one of the top long-ball receivers in franchise history.
A fourth-round draft choice out of Boston U., Bill Brooks became the Colts' first notable wideout following their move to Indianapolis. He had a remarkable rookie season in '86, posting 65 catches for 1,131 yards and eight TDs. These totals were all career highs for Brooks during his years with the Colts, but he did manage to lead the team in receptions and receiving yards for five of his seven years in Indianapolis. There are several reasons why Brooks never recaptured the glory of his rookie season: 1) He became a targeted receiver after having such a great rookie campaign; 2) The Colts acquired star running back Eric Dickerson in 1987, and he became the focal point of their offense for the next few seasons; and 3) Brooks spent his Colts career catching balls from Jack Trudeau (never known as a great passer), Chris Chandler (young and unproven at the time), and Jeff George (great arm, but still learning during Brooks' tenure). Add in the fact that Brooks played under four different head coaches in seven seasons for a very inconsistent team, and it should be easy to see why he never quite reached his star potential in Indianapolis. Despite the obstacles, he had a very good career with the Colts, grabbing 411 passes for 5,818 yards and 28 scores, and earning a spot on the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor. He followed up with three solid seasons in Buffalo before finishing his career with Washington in '96.
Most teams consider themselves lucky if they have one tight end on the roster who is a capable receiver and dutiful blocker. The Colts, for a few years, were fortunate enough to have two such players in Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard.
Dilger was taken in the fourth round after a solid career at Illinois, and he put up respectable numbers his rookie year (42 receptions for 635 yards and four TDs), as well as proving himself a tenacious blocker. He had a similar sophomore season, but was somewhat phased out of the passing game the next couple of years as the Colts decided to further incorporate star running back Marshall Faulk into the passing game. After Faulk was dealt to the Rams in 1999, the Colts drafted Edgerrin James, who put up even bigger numbers than Faulk. It was at this time that Marvin Harrison emerged as an elite receiver and Marcus Pollard was phased into the team's passing scheme. Despite the circumstances, Dilger continued to block admirably and catch passes when called upon, even posting a career-high 47 grabs in 2000 (for 538 yards and three scores). He made the Pro Bowl following the 2001 season, his final year in Indianapolis, despite only catching 32 passes for 343 yards and two TDs. The selection was obviously a testament to Dilger's blocking and all-around solid play. He signed with Tampa Bay in '02, earning a Super Bowl ring at the end of that season, then retired after two more decent years with the Bucs. In his seven seasons with the Colts, Dilger accumulated 261 receptions, 3,181 yards, and 18 TDs.
Every team seems to have at least one Cinderella story during its history, and Marcus Pollard qualifies as such for the Colts. He had been a basketball star at Bradley University (Illinois) and didn't even play college football. Such was his athleticism, though, that he was able to make the Colts as a walk-on in 1995. With Ken Dilger firmly entrenched as the starting tight end, Pollard saw little action his first three seasons, but he was slowly worked into the passing game in 1998 (not coincidentally Peyton Manning's rookie season). Though not as crushing of a blocker as Dilger, Pollard was the quicker of the two and proved to be the better overall receiver. His numbers improved during the next few seasons, and he posted personal bests in 2001 with 47 receptions for 739 yards and eight TDs. Pollard put together a couple more decent seasons, but Dallas Clark eventually emerged as the team's No. 1 tight end, and Pollard became expendable, signing with Detroit prior to the 2005 campaign. Although Pollard was never a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection, he was a reliable pass-catching tight end and one of Manning's favorite red-zone targets, logging 263 receptions for 3,391 yards and 35 TDs during his tenure with the Colts.
The Colts' first-round draft choice in 1996 (Syracuse), Harrison made an immediate impression during his rookie campaign, posting 64 receptions for 836 yards and eight TDs (all team-leading totals). He had respectable sophomore and junior years, but 1999 proved to be his breakout season. Not coincidentally, this was also second-year quarterback Peyton Manning's breakout season, and he and Harrison formed a special bond that would rewrite the team record books during the next eight seasons.
Though small (6', 175 pounds) by modern WR standards, Harrison possessed an uncanny combination of quickness, great hands, and fearlessness, which allowed him to get open almost anywhere on the field— and Manning was more than happy to exploit Harrison's talents. From 1999 through 2006, Harrison never caught fewer than 82 passes during a season or gained less than 1,113 yards, and he reached double digits in TD receptions each of those years. His consistently stellar play earned him eight-straight Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro picks ('99, '02, and '06). In 2002, Harrison set an NFL record with 143 receptions (shattering Herman Moore's record by 20), which he converted for a league-leading 1,722 yards —easily one of the top single-season efforts ever by an NFL receiver. The record still stands and has yet to be seriously threatened.
Age and a knee injury finally slowed Harrison down in 2007, and he sat out for much of that campaign. He returned in 2008, but Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark eventually emerged as the team's top receivers, and Harrison was released by the Colts after the 2008 season. His regular-season career totals of 1,102 catches, 14,580 receiving yards, and 128 TD catches are all team records—those numbers, along with the eight Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nods and his recent selcection for the NFL's All-Decade Team (2000-09) should guarantee Harrison a membership in Canton.
A first-round choice from University of Miami (where he was a four-year starter), Wayne was used sparingly his rookie season as Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison were firmly established as the Colts' primary offensive weapons. He saw more action during his second season, playing in all 16 games and earning a starting spot mid-season. In 2003, his first season as a full-timer, Wayne responded with 68 grabs for 838 yards and seven scores (all totals were second on the team to Harrison). The steadily improving Wayne topped 1,000 yards receiving in '04 and '05, but to many, he was still viewed as "the other guy" in the Colts' receiving corps. He finally received his due following the 2006 season, when he was selected for his first Pro Bowl. He repeated that honor in '07 and became the team's No. 1 receiver, as Marvin Harrison was forced to spend much of the season sidelined with a knee injury. His totals for the '07 campaign included 104 receptions (third in the NFL) and a league-leading 1,510 yards (with 10 TDs). He has since continued to build on his reputation as a reliable and dangerous receiver, earning his third and fourth straight Pro Bowl berths following the '08 and '09 seasons, and his career totals through the 2009 season are as follows: 636 receptions, 9,393 receiving yards, and 63 TD grabs. In the Super Bowl XLI victory over the Bears, Wayne was on the receiving end of a 53-yard TD pass from Peyton Manning.
An All-American following his senior year at Iowa, Clark was yet another first-round selection by the Colts in 2003. With James, Harrison and Wayne getting the majority of the offensive touches, Clark caught just 29 balls for 340 yards and one score during his rookie season. The following year, he caught just 25 passes, but he showed exceptional speed and agility for a tight end, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch and scoring five TDs. Though his productivity didn't increase during the next couple of seasons, he proved his value during the 2006 playoffs, making 17 receptions for 281 yards in the three playoff games, then recording four catches for 36 yards in the ensuing Super Bowl victory over Chicago.
Following his postseason productivity in 2006, Clark had a breakout year in '07, posting (then) career highs of 58 receptions, 616 yards, and 11 TDs (which still stands as the Colts' single-season record among tight ends). He followed up with a Pro-Bowl-caliber season in '08, making 77 grabs for 848 yards and six scores, but he was snubbed for any postseason accolades. Clark's 2009 season, however, vaulted him into the realm of the NFL's elite tight ends—he posted 100 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs, finally earning himself a Pro Bowl berth and a spot on the All-Pro squad. During the 2009 season, Clark surpassed the great John Mackey's career franchise records for receptions (356) and TD grabs (41) among tight ends, although he still trails Mackey in receiving yards (5,126 to 4,188). Ironically, Clark was the recipient of the John Mackey Award as the nation's best collegiate tight end following his senior season at Iowa.
Willie Richardson, WR (1963-69, '71)
Richardson was used infrequently during his first few years while guys named Berry, Moore, Mackey, and Orr handled the Colts' receiving duties. He finally got his chance in '67, and he responded with 63 catches for 860 yards and eight TDs, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. He had two more productive seasons with the Colts and finished his career in Baltimore with 188 receptions for 2,883 yards and 24 TDs. Unfortunately, he spent the 1970 season with the Dolphins, thus missing out on the Colts' Super Bowl V victory.
Glenn Doughty WR (1972-79)
Doughty spent his entire Colts career as the team's third or fourth option—Lydell Mitchell provided the ground attack, while wideout Roger Carr was the deep threat and Mitchell, Don McCauley, and TE Ray Chester all proved to be capable short-yardage receivers. Nonetheless, Doughty was a starter for all but his rookie year, catching passes when called upon but never putting up huge numbers. In eight seasons, he managed 219 receptions for 3,547 yards (a good 16.2 average) and 24 TDs.
Matt Bouza WR (1982-89)
Bouza was a decent possession receiver who had the misfortune of playing on some of the worst teams in franchise history. The club went winless in '82 and didn't have a decent season until '87 ,when they went 9-6. Also, the quarterbacks during most of Bouza's tenure were Mike Pagel and Jack Trudeau. Through this, Bouza managed 234 receptions for 3,064 yards and 17 TDs. 1986 was his best season—he led the team with 71 catches, which he converted for 830 yards and five scores.
Jessie Hester WR (1990-93)
The speedy Hester (pictured) began his career with the Raiders, where he was used solely as a long-ball threat. When he arrived in Indy in 1990, the Colts decided to put him to better use, as Hester teamed with first Bill Brooks, and then Reggie Langhorne to form decent, but unspectacular, receiving duos. His first year with Indy was his best, as he posted 54 receptions for a career-high 924 yards and six TDs. His four-year totals with the Colts: 230 receptions, 3,304 yards and 13 TDs.
Sean Dawkins WR (1993-97)
Dawkins was the Colts' first-round pick in '93, starting just seven games and catching only 26 passes during his rookie campaign. He became a full-timer the following year and led the team in receiving yards in both '94 and '95. He put up solid numbers in '96 and '97, but Marvin Harrison and Marshall Faulk became the focal points of the Colts offense, and Dawkins was shipped to the Saints prior to the '98 season. In his five Colts seasons, Dawkins caught 251 balls for 3,511 yards and 12 TDs.