Ed Thompson's Colts Blog: 7/19

Scout.com NFL Expert Tom Marino is starting a great series on NFL quarterbacks today and the key attributes needed to truly be one of the elite ones. He includes some references to some of those players, including Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning...

...I'm sure Manning will be more prominently featured in one of his upcoming features in his series over the next few days.

Speaking of Manning, who has been calling the plays for the Colts since his rookie season since 1998, see if you can recall who his backup quarterback was during his rookie season while you continue reading. I'll share the answer at the end of this blog entry.

It really makes you stop and think how special of a time in Colts history this is when you consider that in over the span of more than half a century, just two Colts quarterbacks truly deserve the reference of being "elite" as far as I see it.

An argument could be made that Bert Jones deserves consideration, but I'd put him more in the "great" category than "elite." He put together three seasons with more than 3,000 yards passing during his nine years as a Colt, tossing 20 or more touchdowns in each of those seasons. But his six other seasons were fairly average and one thing that certainly works against him qualifying as an elite quarterback is the fact that his team lost in all three of his playoff appearances, including a 40-14 thumping at the hands of the Steelers back in 1976. That said, boy did I love to watch him play. He had an arm that always kept opponents on edge and he was a highly likable guy.

Jim Harbaugh gave Colts fans some fantastic memories as well. A very solid quarterback who was off the charts in some intangible areas like heart and deterimination, "Captain Comeback" will always be remembered for his gritty play, making unlikely completions on the run with eyes widely fixed on a receiver while anticipating the punishing blow of the defender who had finally closed the gap on him. As he picked himself up after each tackle, he picked up the hearts of Colts fans who had desperately waited for roughly 20 years for a quarterback that could give them hope from week to week.

When you've seen a Johnny Unitas or Peyton Manning play and you get used to seeing that level of performance from your quarterback position, it's easy to forget that most teams around the NFL currently have the Colts equivalent of a Mike Pagel, Jack Trudeau or Marty Domres leading their offense each week. Not to detract from the accomplishments of those three talented individuals, but they are examples of the typical, steady quarterback who primarily populate the pro ranks these days -- capable of making big plays, intelligent enough to run an offense effectively, but not always able to execute or consistently able to hoist the rest of the team on their backs when the odds are against them.

As we prepare for another NFL season, with the anticipation of seeing if the Colts can defend their World Championship title, don't forget to enjoy each moment of Peyton Manning's time on the field. It may be a long time before you see another man wear a Colts uniform that can approach the status that he and Unitas have achieved.

As promised, here's the answer to the trivia question I asked at the beginning of this entry. The backup quarterback during Manning's rookie year was Kelly Holcomb, who was in his third year in the league and with the team. He didn't get to throw a single pass that year, and then moved on through free agency to play for Cleveland for four seasons. After a two-year stint in Buffalo, Holcomb is now competing for the backup role in Philadelphia.

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A member of the Professional Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's NFL and college football player interviews and features have been published across the Scout.com network and syndicated through FoxSports.com's NFL team pages.

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