Before he walks to the sideline for the final time, it’s likely that Peyton Manning will hold the NFL’s all-time passing records for attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns in NFL history. With Manning at quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts have made the playoffs the last nine years with two Super Bowl appearances and a victory in Super Bowl XLI. Yet when fans look back on the Manning era in Indianapolis, will they think that Manning and the Colts underachieved?
Whether fairly or not, as one of the all-time great quarterbacks, Manning is held to and will judged by a higher standard. He’s already done what Dan Marino couldn’t do and that was lead his team to a Super Bowl victory and to as many Super Bowls as Brett Favre.
Will the Indianapolis Colts in the Manning era be remembered like the Oakland Raiders of the ‘70s, a great regular season team that consistently made the playoffs yet could only win one Super Bowl?
From 1972 to 1977, the Oakland Raiders made the playoffs six consecutive seasons and had a regular season record of 66-16-2 for an outstanding winning percentage of .798. However, those Raiders were denied greatness as only once could they get past two of the greatest teams of all-time, the Miami Dolphins of the early ‘70s and then the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately for the Colts, their run of outstanding play during the Manning era the last nine years has coincided with the Tom Brady era in New England and the Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh. In the last 10 years, the Patriots have appeared in four Super Bowls winning three of them, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have appeared in three Super Bowls in the last six seasons winning two of them.
In the past 50 years, only a few teams have matched the Colts duration of consistent, high quality play. Granted quite a few franchises have won multiple Super Bowls in a shorter period of time, but let’s compare the Colts run of success to others in recent history.
From 2002-2010, the Colts have made the playoffs nine straight years, their regular season record is 109-35 for a winning percentage of .757 and a playoff record of 9-8 and they’ve won at least 10 games in each regular season.
There have been some superior eight-year stretches by other NFL franchises that deserve mention. From 1972-1979 the Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs every year and had a regular season record of 88-27-1 for a winning percentage of .763, a 14-4 postseason record and four Super Bowl victories that occurred within a six-year period.
From 1983-1990 the San Francisco 49ers made the playoffs every year and had a regular season record of 96-30 for a winning percentage of .762, an 11-5 postseason record and three Super Bowl victories. Also the Dallas Cowboys from 1966-1973 made the playoffs eight straight years with a regular season record of 83-27-2 for a winning percentage of .750, a postseason record of 8-7 and a 1-1 Super Bowl record during that time.
However, very few teams have had runs of nine years or longer such as the one the Colts are on. The Dallas Cowboys did so from 1975-1983. The Cowboys made the playoffs nine straight years as well and had a regular season record of 98-33 for a winning percentage of .748. Like the Colts in their nine-year run, the Cowboys won one Super Bowl but happened to lose two others. The Cowboys postseason record was 12-8 during that time.
As mentioned, the Colts run has coincided with the New England Patriots run of consistent success, and since 2001, New England has a regular season record of 121-39 for a winning percentage of .756 and have made the playoffs in eight of the past 10 seasons. Their postseason record in that time is 14-5 and the Patriots have won 10 or more games in each of the last eight years.
The San Francisco 49ers had a 10-year run from 1981-1990 with a regular season record of 112-39 for a winning percentage of .742 winning four Super Bowls and making the playoffs nine times in those 10 seasons. Their postseason record during that period matches the Patriots at 14-5. So the difference between the Colts current run and that of the Patriots and 49ers is simply, the number of Super Bowl appearances and rings.
As impressive as the Colts nine-year run has been, there have been two runs twice as long that stand out in NFL history. The greatest run of outstanding consecutive regular seasons was by the San Francisco 49ers. From 1983 to 1998, the 49ers had 16 straight seasons with 10 or more victories and had a record of 191-63 for a winning percentage of .752 and four Super Bowls. In those 16 seasons, the 49ers made the playoffs 15 times and had a postseason record of 17-11.
If you go back two years earlier to 1981, the 49ers followed up a 13-3 regular season with a Super Bowl victory and then a bad year in 1982 with a 3-6 record. If you include those two seasons in the 49ers run, San Francisco from 1981-1998 made the playoffs in 16 of those 18 seasons winning five Super Bowls with a regular season record of 207-72 for a winning percentage of .742 and a postseason record of 20-11 over that time.
The other team that had an 18-year run was the one that the 49ers replaced as the dominant team in the NFC, none other than the Dallas Cowboys, and many point to the “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC Championship Game as the turning point for these two franchises.
From 1966 to 1983 Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys made the playoffs 17 out of 18 seasons, with 1974 the only non-playoff year and that year the Cowboys were a respectable 8-6 during the regular season. The Cowboys regular season record during that 18-year stretch was 187-66-2 for a winning percentage of .737.
In their respective 18-year runs, Dallas, like San Francisco, also made it to five Super Bowls, the difference being the 49ers won all five times, and the Cowboys won only twice. A run of consistent success of that length will be hard pressed to ever be equaled again.
As for the Colts, Manning is now 35 years old and still playing at a high level. His 17 interceptions last season would be cause for alarm had he not completed 450 passes in 679 attempts for 4,700 yards. However, his passer rating last season was his lowest since 2002.
The Colts will once again be favorites to win the AFC South division and qualify for the postseason again, but is that good enough? To make the playoffs year after year after year with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and a cast of offensive stars through the years and win only one Lombardi trophy?
Whether the Colts can win another Super Bowl with the few years left Manning has at this level will ultimately determine his and the Colts legacy. The clock is ticking though and time is running out.