1970s Baltimore Colts (An Up and Down Decade)

The 1970s was an up-and-down decade for the Baltimore Colts. After a disappointing 8–5–1 record in 1969, Head Coach Don Shula left to coach the Miami Dolphins and was replaced by Don McCafferty.

After the NFL and AFL merger, the Colts were one of three NFL teams to start the 1970 season in the AFC. After barely defeating the SD Chargers in week one, the Colts were humiliated by the defending Super Bowl Champion KC Chiefs 44–24 on Monday Night Football. But the team bounced back to win their next six games, including a 35–0 win over the Dolphins. They won four of their next six games to finish the season with an 11–2–1 record.

Bob Vogel (Tackle) and Billy Ray Smith (Defensive Tackle) for the Baltimore Colts football cards
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Bob Vogel (Tackle) and Billy Ray Smith (Defensive Tackle) for the Baltimore Colts football cards

The Colts shut out the Cincinnati Bengals 17–0 in the playoff game, and a week later, they beat the Oakland Raiders 27–17 in the AFC Championship. Two weeks later, the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl on a last-second Jim O’Brien field goal. It was their first World Championship victory since 1959.

Despite their 14–2–1 record and winning the Super Bowl, only three Colts players made it to the Pro Bowl. Safety Jerry Logan, middle linebacker Mike Curtis, and defensive end Bubba Smith.

Defending Champs - What's Next?

The 1971 Colts finished the regular season with ten wins and four losses. Although their record was not as impressive as the year before, the team looked dominant at times, and it seemed they had an excellent chance of winning the Super Bowl again. The defense was solid, shutting out three opponents while holding two other teams to only a field goal. During one three-game stretch, they outscored their opponents 97–10.

They easily defeated the Browns 20–3 in the playoff game and were now just one win away from their third Super Bowl appearance in four years. But it was not to be, as the Colts played their worst game of the season, losing 21–0 to the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game.

Fullback Norm Bulaich, strong safety Jerry Logan, center Bill Curry, tackle Bob Vogel, and middle linebacker Mike Curtis made the Pro Bowl. Defensive end Bubba Smith, outside linebacker Ted Hendricks, and free safety Rick Volk made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro.

Bubba Smith (Defensive End) Baltimore Colts football card
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Bubba Smith (Defensive End) Baltimore Colts football card

The Colts started the 1972 season with a new owner, Robert Irsay. After a 1–4 start, Coach Don McCafferty lost his job. The aging Colts finished the season with a 5–9 record, their first losing season in sixteen years. The Colts were shut out in three games, and interim Coach John Sandusky and his entire staff were fired at season’s end.

Center Bill Curry, defensive back Bruce Laird, and linebacker Ted Hendricks made the Pro Bowl.

New Look Colts

Things didn’t improve in 1973, as the Colts went 4–10. Johnny Unitas and many other Colts players were traded in the off-season. In a week nine game against the Dolphins, the Colts were humiliated 44–0. It was the fourth game in a row that Miami shut out Baltimore. The combined score of those four games was Miami 104, Baltimore 0! Linebacker Ted Hendricks was the only player to make the Pro Bowl.

It only got worse in 1974. The Colts started 0–3, and Coach Howard 

Schnellenberger was fired and replaced by General Manager Joe Thomas. The Colts finally won a game in week six after getting outscored in their first five games 149-40. They finished the season with a dismal 2–12 record. Middle linebacker Mike Curtis was the only player on the team to make the Pro Bowl.

1975 would see another coaching change as Ted Marchibroda was hired to lead the team. The Colts won their opener 35–7 but hopes for a winning season died quickly when the team lost the next four in a row. 

But the team rallied around second-year quarterback Bert Jones and put together a nine-game win streak to finish the season 10–4. Baltimore fans began referring to the 1975 season as “the Miricle on 33rd Street.”

Unfortunately for Colts fans, their team had to play the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff game and lost 28–10. But it was a successful season that no one could have predicted. Ted Marchibroda won the NFL Coach of the Year Award. Lydell Mitchell became the first Baltimore Colt to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Mitchell made the Pro Bowl, as did defensive end John Dutton and offensive tackle George Kunz. Linebacker Tom MacLeod made All-Pro.

Tom MacLeod (Linebacker) and Lydell Mitchell (Running Back) for the Baltimore Colts football cards
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Tom MacLeod (Linebacker) and Lydell Mitchell (Running Back) for the Baltimore Colts football cards

After posting a 2–4 record in the preseason, owner Robert Irsay and General Manager Joe Thomas criticized Head Coach Ted Marchibroda, who, in turn, resigned. The dispute between the three men was quickly resolved, and Marchibroda returned to his coaching duties. The 1976 Colts finished the season with an 11–3 record, but once again, they faced the unenviable task of playing the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff game. The game wasn’t close, as the Steelers won easily 40–14.

Receiver Roger Carr, running back Lydell Mitchell, quarterback Bert Jones, tackle George Kunz, defensive end John Dutton, and kicker Toni Linhart made the Pro Bowl. Jones, Mitchell, and Dutton also made All-Pro. Mitchell and Carr gained over 1,000 yards, and Jones won the NFL MVP award.

After ten weeks, the 1977 Baltimore Colts had nine wins and only one loss, and they appeared to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But then they lost three games in a row and were in jeopardy of not making the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. They needed to win their final game of the season, and they did.

Once again, they played the defending Super Bowl Champions in the playoff game, this time the Oakland Raiders. In one of the best playoff games ever played, the Colts lost a heartbreaker in double overtime 37–31.
John Dutton, George Kunz, Lydell Mitchell, Bert Jones, Toni Linhart, and defensive tackle Mike Barnes made the Pro Bowl.

Roger Carr (Wide Receiver) and Mike Barnes (Defensive Tackle) for the Baltimore Colts
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Roger Carr (Wide Receiver) and Mike Barnes (Defensive Tackle) for the Baltimore Colts football cards

1978 got off to a terrible start. Star running back Lydell Mitchell was traded to the SD Chargers after an offseason contract dispute. Quarterback Bert Jones separated his shoulder in a preseason game and would miss most of the season. The Colts lost their first two games of the season by a combined score of 80–0! They won five of their next nine games but finished the season with a dismal 5–11 record. Not one player on the team made it to the Pro Bowl.

Star defensive lineman John Dutton left the team to join the Dallas Cowboys, and quarterback Bert Jones played in only four games due to his still ailing shoulder. The end result was another 5–11 record for the 1979 Colts. The only Colts player to make the Pro Bowl was running back Joe Washington. Coach Ted Marchibroda lost his job at season’s end.

The bottom line — Regular season record — 73–70–1. Post-season record — 4–4. Division titles — four. AFC titles — one. Super Bowl titles — one.

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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network

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