Top 10 Indianapolis Professional Athletes of All-Time

Posted: November 25, 2017 by cschrump in Uncategorized

by Chad Schrump

I woke up Friday morning to a tweet from a buddy of mine. It read, “Top 10 Indy pro athletes of all time (longevity matters). Go.”

Nice! I love it.  What a great idea.  I began typing a response to him but then thought, nah – let’s put this up for some debate on the site, so here we are.

I’m going to give you my top-10 Indianapolis professional athletes but with a stipulation.  These will only be players that I can actually remember watching.  There’s no George McGinnis on this list.  No Bob Netolicky.  No Freddie Lewis.  I understand that they were great, believe me, I do… but I didn’t see them.  No, I should say that I don’t remember seeing them because I know I actually did a few times.  My mom and dad had Pacer season tickets at the Fairgrounds in the ABA days and in the early 80’s at Market Square Arena but I recall nothing from those games.  Too bad because that makes this a very dominant football list.

Image result for aba pacers fairgroundsLet’s be honest, the Pacers haven’t been great. While the blue and gold have certainly had their moments, by and large, they have been also-rans.  Is that even a real  term, also-rans?  Sounds good to me.  The Pacers were at their peak, perhaps twice.  Once, when the greatest basketball player of all-time just happened to be playing in Chicago and then again, a few years ago when a certain former Cleveland Cavalier decided he couldn’t win a title on his own and assembled one of the first super teams ever.

The one season that Jordan misses a season, Indiana makes it to the NBA Finals and what’s their reward? They got to face off against Kobe Bryant and Shaq.  I mean, wow.  Congrats on that.  Oh well, that was still a ridiculously fun team to root for.

Also, like my friend said, “Longevity matters.” So, you won’t see Andrew Luck on the list and I’ll be damned if you think I’m putting Paul George on any list of great players, unless of course, it’s greatest franchise backstabber or greatest player that can’t perform in clutch situations.

I’ve digressed so let’s get back to it. Here are my Top-10 Indy pro athletes:

  1. Bob Sanders

Yep, Bob Sanders. Oh yeah, a controversial pick right out of the gate.  I’m not scared.  Sure, injuries took a massive toll on this Colts superstar but when he played, my God, what an incredibly exciting and supremely talented player.  I remember always believing that eventually, he was going to kill a human in a game.  He was truly a human missile and played like he was shot out of a gun.  The guy was only 5’ 8” tall but had cartoon muscle arms and ran a 4.35 – 40.  That’s just ridiculous.

Image result for bob sanders tackleLet’s not get it twisted… without Bob Sanders, Peyton Manning would have never won a Super Bowl in Indy.  The defensive run Sanders went on that season was special.  Put it this way:  If Sanders knees could have stayed healthy, he’d be a no doubt about it Hall-of-Famer.  Don’t forget that he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.

  1. Jeff Saturday

I debated between Saturday and Tarik Glenn but ultimately decided that Saturday was literally the captain of that line and the anchor of the team. Glenn had to protect Manning’s blind side, which he was incredibly successful at doing but Saturday called the protections and was essentially in lock-step with one of the greatest players of all-time.  Peyton and Jeff were almost always reading off the same page and made very few errors together.  This is one of the truly greatest QB/Center combos to ever do it.  Here’s a nice shot of Jeff’s beautiful blue eyes.  You’re welcome, mom.

Image result for jeff saturday eyes

      8. Robert Mathis

Without doing a ton of research, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney made up one of the most dangerous bookend defensive fronts in the last 15-20 years of pro football. Mathis had blazing speed and surprising strength, resulting in his specialty – the strip sack.  He wasn’t the biggest player to ever do it but perhaps no player worked harder or refused to quit on a play more than Mathis.

The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year spent his entire 14-year career in Indianapolis and was an absolute fan favorite.  He also blocked me on Twitter on New Year’s Eve 2011 because in a spirited debate with the former Alabama A&M product, I told him winning the last game of the season would be detrimental because we needed a QB to help him next season.  Who was that QB I argued for?  Andrew Luck.  No worries, Robert!  I’m not holding a grudge.

  1. Rik Smits

Maybe no one on this entire list could frustrate me to such a degree then later in his career, make me so happy – as Rik Smits did. In a sense, even though he was the #2 pick of the entire 1988 NBA Draft, he was a project from day one but improved every season and became a deadly 17 foot shooter with a propensity to drain game winners.  How can you ever forget Smits burying the game winner against Orlando in game 4 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals.

Image result for rik smits game winner orlandoThis 7’ 4” Marist product and Netherlands native played all 12 NBA seasons in Indianapolis.  The Dunking Dutchman was the second best player on a damn good basketball team that had sustained success for a decade.  I will always have a soft spot for #45.

  1. Reggie Wayne

Do you remember what you were thinking when Bill Polian drafted the Miami Hurricanes wide receiver in the spring of 2001? I do.

“What? Another receiver?  Dammit!  We need defense!  What the hell is Polian thinking?”

Image result for reggie wayne bill polian draft dayYep, we were wrong and Wayne became the second most famous ‘Reggie’ in Indianapolis sports history. Wayne spent his entire 14 professional years in Indianapolis, finishing his potentially Hall-of-Fame worthy career 10th all-time in receptions and in receiving yardage.  Those are spectacular numbers.  While Marvin Harrison was the deep, homerun hitter for the Colts, Wayne was the glue – always finding a way to grab a 3rd and short pass for a first down.  Never, ever did you see Reggie “alligator arm” anything.

Wayne was a man’s man and Peyton Manning’s go-to guy.  Reggie caught Peyton’s only touchdown pass in the 2007 Super Bowl in Wayne’s hometown of Miami.  How fitting.

  1. Edgerrin James

Image result for edgerrinI’m telling you this now because I truly believe it. If Edgerrin James doesn’t shred his knee in his 3rd professional season, he goes down as one of the top 2 or 3 running backs in the history of the league.  His first two seasons are flat out ridiculous.  Look at these numbers:

1999      1553 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns plus 62 catches for 586 yards and another 4 scores

2000      1709 rushing yards and 13 TDs and another 63 yds receiving for 594 yds and 5 touchdowns.

Those are frightening numbers to opposing defensive coordinators. Those are Star Wars numbers.  Crazy.  Hell, even in 2001, before he tore his ACL – James had 662 yards through 6 games – on pace for another 1700+ yard season.  He was a special talent that could run around you, through you or past you.  He also caught it very well.  Another tip of the cap to Bill Polian because most of this city was shocked when he selected James instead of University of Texas star Ricky Williams.  Yikes.

Edge spent 8 of his 12 NFL seasons in Indianapolis. Hopefully, the 12,000 yard career rushing will enter Canton as a member of the pro football Hall-of-Fame.

Also, my email address for years was Edgerrin32TD@comcast – so I had that going for me.

  1. Dwight Freeney

I can close my eyes and see that lightning fast spin move, hurtling toward a quarterback that realizes there is no escaping the former Syracuse product. Freeney could also get off the snap like he was running track and explode into the tackle with a bull rush that had no rival.  He was the total package of speed and power.  How could a man weighing 270lbs run a 4.48 – 40 yard dash?  This future Hall-of-Famer played 11 NFL seasons in Indianapolis and is still playing today – with the Detroit Lions.  Freeney is 17th all-time in career sacks with 125.5 – and a shot at a few more in the Motor City.

Image result for dwight freeney

     3. Marvin Harrison

Marvin is the second greatest receiver that I’ve ever watched (Jerry Rice – GOAT) and proudly sits in the NFL Hall-of-Fame.

Image result for marvin harrison diving catchHis hands were magical.  He was a contortionist mid-air.  He was as fast as he needed to be.  I still recall announcers talking about Marv’s speed, or lack thereof but not one time do I remember him ever getting tackled from behind.  Not once.  Seemed fast to me and probably to the cornerbacks that tried to stop him and his 14,000 career yards.  Harrison, a notoriously hard worker once quipped, “They pay me to practice.  The games – I play for free.”

  1. Reggie Miller

I debated hard on this one but am comfortable with where Miller landed on the list. Personally, I always felt like Reggie put Indianapolis on the map – that he had “our” back.  By the time his career was over, the California native seemed like a legitimate Hoosier.  Reggie was one of “us”.

Image result for reggie millerReg was obviously a deadly shooter but his clutch play, especially in the playoffs, was otherworldly.  Listen closely and you always hear players say they want that last shot – that they want the ball in their hands when it’s winning time… but they really don’t.  But not Reggie Miller, he demanded the ball and everyone in the arena knew he was going to get it.  This skinny little 6’ 7” beanpole fought like a linebacker and was as tough as any player in the league.

I’ll always have a twinge of sadness that this NBA Legend, who played all 18 seasons in Indy – couldn’t win that ring. For all of his loyalty to the city of Indianapolis, he deserved a title.  Nonetheless, he’ll go down as one of the greatest 2-guards in history and will be forever loved in Indianapolis.

  1. Peyton Manning

What a shock, right? This man came on the scene in 1998 and almost instantly turned a laughingstock franchise into a perennial contender.  Somehow, and it still amazes me, Manning turned a basketball crazed state on its ear – and turned it into a football hotbed.

Image result for peyton manningIt’s too bad the Colts only won one Super Bowl during his years here because it should have been more. My dad and I always thought that if he’d had Bill Belichick as his coach, he may have won 5 or more.

His numbers were gaudy and he won at a rate never seen before in the NFL. No team in the history of the league won more games in a decade period than Manning’s Colts.  Think about that for a minute.  Unreal.

The man turned Blair White, Jacob Tamme and Austin Collie into household names. You think anybody else is doing that?  I don’t.

Not only was Peyton an incredible quarterback, he was perhaps, an even better citizen.

I think about Manning and the fact that my son is too young to have ever seen him play. That’s too bad but believe this, he’ll hear about him – from me.  Probably too much, I’m sure.  Indianapolis will take their one championship and continue celebrating the career of Peyton Manning.

He’ll always be our quarterback.


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