Remember when quarterbacks were true field generals, not just guys following coaches’ orders? Arguably the best on-field leader in football history, Unitas is considered one of the greatest QBs ever and the originator of the “two-minute drill.” After being cut in his first NFL training camp by the Steelers, the Colts eventually gambled on what may be the NFL’s best undrafted free agent signing of all-time. The Hall of Famer earned the first of his three league MVP awards in his second full season in 1957 and never looked back, winning three NFL championships with the Colts (1958-59, 1970) and becoming the model for the position for all others who followed.
A staple on some of the classic Colts teams from the 1950s and 1960s, Berry rewrote the receiving record books as pro football evolved out of the dark ages and became acquainted with the forward pass. According to lore, the Hall of Famer had more receptions titles (3) than dropped passes (2) in his career – while fumbling only once. Berry also led the NFL in receiving yardage three times while serving as the favorite target of legendary QB Johnny Unitas. In what is often dubbed the “Greatest Game Ever Played” (the 1958 NFL title game) Berry set a championship-game record with 12 catches and 178 yards. Berry retired as the NFL leader in catches, yards and TDs – before the passing game exploded in the modern era.
One of the first fun, old-school football personalities, Donovan was also one of the game’s early greats on the defensive line. After his first two teams folded (New York Yanks, Dallas Texans), the eventual Hall of Famer caught on with the Colts in 1953. By the next season, Donovan started a run of five straight Pro Bowl appearances on Baltimore’s stifling defense. Donovan and the Colts won back-to-back NFL championships in 1958-59, but it wasn’t until his career ended that he became known nationwide for his off-the-cuff persona. Regular guest stops on “The Late Show with David Letterman” plus an entertaining autobiography named “Fatso” helped Donovan cement his cult-figure status.
Considered one of the top two players in football today, Manning is on pace to completely rewrite the record book in a league known for amazing quarterbacks. The ultimate modern-day mastermind at QB, Manning’s production is off the charts: 54,828 passing yards, 399 TD passes. Beyond all of his numbers, Manning has started since Day 1 as an NFL rookie in 1998 and has never missed a start (208 straight games). But the best measure of his importance: Indy has gone 141-67 (.678) with 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons with Manning, after going 84-123 (.406) with three playoff trips the previous 13 years. In other words, we may be watching the best QB ever each Sunday.
Before Mackey, playing tight end in the NFL meant blocking, blocking and more blocking. But once Mackey joined the Colts in 1963, the position would never be the same. Mackey introduced an athletic element to the traditionally burly spot, and became the precursor to the pass-catching demons who catch passes and glory today. Twice the Hall of Famer averaged more than 20 yards per catch in a season, and his 15.8 career ypc is still unheard of for a TE. One season the Colts even used him on kickoff returns, where he averaged 30.1 yards per return. Mackey also proved legendary for his toughness, missing just one game over his 10-year career.