Indianapolis Colts - Franchise History - 1998–2011: The Peyton Manning Era

1998–2011: The Peyton Manning Era

Jim Irsay began to shape the Colts one year after assuming control from his father by firing head coach Lindy Infante and hiring Bill Polian to run as the general manager of the organization. Polian in turn hired Jim Mora to become the next head coach of the team and would go on to draft Tennessee Volunteer quarterback Peyton Manning, the son of New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning, with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft.

The team and Manning struggled during the 1998 season, winning only three games and Manning throwing a league high 28 interceptions. However, Manning did pass for 3,739 yards and threw 26 touchdown passes while also being named to the NFL All-Rookie First Team. The Colts began to improve towards the end of the 1998 season and showed continued growth in 1999. Indianapolis drafted Edgerrin James in 1999 and continued to improve their roster heading into the upcoming season. The Colts went 13–3 in 1999 and finished first in the AFC East, their first division title since 1987. Indianapolis would go onto lose to the eventual AFC champion Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoffs.

The 2000 and 2001 Colts teams were considerably less successful compared to the 1999 team and pressure began to mount on team administration and the coaching staff following a 6–10 season in 2001. Head coach Jim Mora was fired at the end of the season and was replaced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy. Dungy and the team quickly changed the atmosphere of the organization and returned to the playoffs in 2002 with a 10–6 record. The Colts also returned to the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 with 12–4 records and AFC South championships. The Colts would lose to the New England Patriots and Tom Brady in the 2003 AFC Championship Game and the 2004 divisional playoffs beginning a rivalry between the two team, and more importantly between Manning and Brady. Following two consecutive playoff losses to the Patriots, the Colts began the 2005 season with a 13–0 record, including a regular season victory over the Patriots, the first in the Manning era. During the season Manning and Marvin Harrison broke the NFL record for touchdowns by a quarterback and receiver tandem. Indianapolis finished the season with a 14–2 record, the best record in the league that year and the best in a 16 games season for the franchise, but would go onto lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in divisional round, a disappointing end to the season.

Indianapolis entered the 2006 season with a veteran quarterback, receivers and defenders and would go onto draft Joseph Addai in the 2006 draft. As in the previous season, the Colts began the season undefeated and would go 9–0 before losing their first game against the Dallas Cowboys. Indianapolis would end the season with a 12–4 record and entered the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, this time as the number three seed in the AFC. The Colts won their first two playoff games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens to return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2003 game, and they would face the same opponent in the New England Patriots. In a classic game, the Colt overcame a 21–3 deficit at halftime and would go onto win the game 38–34 and earned a trip to Super Bowl XLI, the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance since 1970 and for the first time in Indianapolis. The Colts faced the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl and would go onto win the game 29–17, giving Manning, Polian, Irsay and Dungy their first Super Bowl title, as well as the first title for the city of Indianapolis.

Following their Super Bowl championship, the Colts would go onto a 13–3 record during the 2007 season and would lose to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional playoffs, which would be the final game the Colts played at the RCA Dome, with the Colts moving into Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008. The 2008 season began with Manning being sidelined for most of the pre-season due to surgery. Indianapolis began the season with a 3–4 record, but would go onto win nine consecutive games to end the season at 12–4 and make in into the playoffs as a wild card team, eventually losing to the Chargers during the wild card round. Following the season, head coach Tony Dungy announced his retirement after seven seasons as head coach, compiling an overall record of 92–33 with the team.

Jim Caldwell was hired as head coach of the team following Dungy, and would lead the team during the 2009 season. The Colts went 14–0 during the season to finish with an overall record of 14–2 after controversially benching their starters. The Colts for the second time in the Manning era would enter the playoffs with the best record in the AFC. The Colts managed victories over the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets to advance to Super Bowl XLIV against the New Orleans Saints. Indianapolis would go onto lose to the Saints 31–17 to end the season in disappointment. This continued into 2010 when the Colts would only compile a 10–6 record, the first time the Colts did not win 12 games since 2002, and lose to the New York Jets in the wild card round of the playoffs. The loss to the Jets would be the last game for Peyton Manning as a Colt.

After missing the preseason, Manning was ruled out for the Colts opening game in Houston and eventually the entire 2011 season. Taking over as starter was veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who had been signed to the team after dissatisfaction with backup quarterback Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. However, even with a veteran quarterback, the Colts went on to an 0–13 record and finished the season with a 2–14 record, enough to receive the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. Immediately following the season, team president Bill Polian was fired ending his fourteen year tenure with the team and eventually Irsay would fire Jim Caldwell after only three seasons as head coach. The constant change built the anticipation on the organizations decision regarding Manning's future with the team. The Peyton Manning era came to a sudden end on March 8, 2012 when Jim Irsay announced that he was officially being released from the roster after thirteen seasons.

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