INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (February 3, 2016) – The Indianapolis Colts are beginning to bask in the afterglow from their historic run through the 2000s, this time on an individual level.
The most successful team in any decade in NFL history – 115 regular-season wins from 2000-09, capped by one world championship – has three integral components from that squad involved in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 discussion. The latest inductees will be determined Saturday in San Francisco.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison and Coach Tony Dungy are among the 15 modern-day finalists for a third consecutive year. Running back Edgerrin James reached the final 15 for the first time.
“Having three Colts that are top-15 finalists, that means a lot,” owner Jim Irsay said. “Of course I’m going to be coming from an angle that’s very much in favor of saying ‘Yes’ on all three, but honestly when I sit back and I really look at football players and contributors like head coaches, there’s no doubt in my mind – none – that those three guys are Hall of Fame guys.
“It’s an honor for us as a franchise, all our fans. There’s no question how excited we are to have that possibility of having three Colts (inducted), and it would be great to have two (this year) at least.”
The first representative of the decade of success had his bust delivered to Canton, Ohio last year. Bill Polian was part of the Class of 2015, and is looking forward to familiar faces joining him.
“History takes the long view,’’ Polian said. “With time, people step back and look at the record and say, ‘That was pretty good.’
“In my case, I’m very grateful and I wouldn’t be there without what we did in Indianapolis and all of those guys.”
It’s intriguing Internet discussion to project which of the 15 modern-day finalists will comprise the Class of 2016, and how many might have Colts connections. The 46-individual selection committee, of which we are a member, pares the list of 15 to 10, then to five. An individual must garner 80 percent of the vote to advance, and ultimately be elected.
Harrison has reached the final 10 in each of his first two years of eligibility while Dungy advanced to the final 10 last year. Eighty-five percent of individuals who reach the Final 15 phase eventually are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The fact Harrison has reached the final 10 the past two years increases the likelihood of him making it to Canton in his third attempt. His journey has been delayed as selectors opted for Andre Reed in the Class of 2014 and Tim Brown in the Class of 2015.
Harrison’s primary competition Saturday figures to be Terrell Owens, who’s in his first year of eligibility.
“Are we disappointed (Harrison) isn’t in yet? Yes, of course,” Irsay said. “I would hope I’m not putting the cart before the horse, but I assume he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame and would hope (it’s) this year.”
Added Polian: “I’m looking forward to hopefully being there to applaud and welcome (Harrison) in this year. How do you not induct a guy whose name is under Jerry Rice’s in the record book?
“I’ve heard the argument, and I hate the argument that, ‘Well, Marvin Harrison had Peyton Manning.’ Well, Jerry Rice had Steve Young and Joe Montana. (John) Stallworth and (Lynn) Swann had Terry Bradshaw. Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman. Don Maynard had Joe Namath.’’
Harrison holds virtually every Colts’ career receiving record, and ranks No. 3 in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, No. 7 with 14,580 yards and No. 5 with 128 touchdowns. He and Manning are the most prolific receiver-quarterback tandem in NFL history with 953 receptions, 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns.
He’s the only player in league history with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns and the only one with four straight seasons with at least 100 receptions. During that eight-year stretch (1999-2006), he averaged 103 receptions, 1,402 yards and 12.5 touchdowns.
Harrison was a first-team selection on the All-Decade team of the 2000s – Owens was a second-team choice – and an eight-time All-Pro, three times as a first-teamer.
“I just don’t know how you could look at what he did and say this guy was not the dominant receiver of his time,” Dungy said.
Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns, but Harrison actually has better per-game averages: 5.8-to-5.1 receptions, 76.7-to-75.6 yards and .674-to-.650 touchdowns. Rice’s career spanned 20 seasons and 303 games while Harrison appeared in 190 games in 13 seasons.
Dungy is the winningest coach in Colts’ history (92-33) and has a career record of 148-79. His career winning percentage (.652) ranks No. 7 in league history and five of the six ahead of him already are in the Hall of Fame. The exception: New England’s Bill Belichick.
The Colts reached the playoffs in each of Dungy’s seven seasons and won their first world championship in three decades with a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. He became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl.
“I have never seen the type of leadership, the type of head coaching abilities that Tony brings,’’ Irsay said. “Obviously being the first African-American (coach) to win a Super Bowl, that speaks for itself.
“What he means to the game . . . there’s a reverence around him.’’
James completes the Colts’ Class of 2016 triumvirate. His credentials include ranking No. 11 in NFL history with 12,246 yards and No. 13 with 15,610 total yards from scrimmage. Of the 10 running backs ahead of him on the all-time list, nine already have been enshrined.
He’s one of four running backs to rush for at least 1,500 in four seasons. The other three – Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson – were first-ballot Hall of Fame selections.
James holds the Colts’ rushing record with 9,226 yards, but Irsay insisted his impact transcended the numbers.
“You ask Peyton Manning, unsolicited,” Irsay said. “(James) was the most valuable player here from ’99 to ’05. Everything ran around him.”
The Colts won the Super Bowl the year after James left for the Arizona Cardinals, but Irsay never forgot what he meant to the franchise.
“I gave him a Super Bowl ring because he earned a Super Bowl ring,” he said. “He has numbers better than some in the Hall of Fame.
“He is a Hall of Fame back, there is no question about it.”