Patriots: Colts matchup brings back old AFC East memories

Photo: Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe

This weekend’s Patriots-Colts game doesn’t just have huge playoff implications and it isn’t just the renewing of a rivalry.

Saturday’s matchup is another historic clash in this feud that’s been going since the Colts were in Baltimore and the Patriots still had the word Boston in front of it.

There is an entire generation of Patriots fans that probably don’t even know the Colts were part of the AFC East from 1970-2002, meaning the Colts and Pats played twice a year every year for 42 years except for the strike year in 1982. Add in the Brady/Manning playoff matchups a bit later in the 2000’s and the start of Deflategate in the 2014 AFC title game and this is probably the Patriots’ biggest rival, bigger than the Jets, Steelers or Ravens.

Once the AFL and NFL merged in 1970 the Baltimore Colts and Boston Patriots began playing twice and the Colts swept the first ever two-game set by scores of 27-3 and 14-6. The Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots in 1971 and the Pats beat Indy in the first meeting (21-17) but the Colts took the second matchup that year by a score of 23-3.

The Colts finished the 70’s 11-9 overall against the Patriots, but there were some historic moments during that time for both franchises. The 1972 meeting in Foxborough was the first ever appearance on Monday Night Football for New England while a Colts win at home in the 1977 season finale gave Baltimore the AFC East crown for the third straight year. New England’s only AFC East title in the decade came in 1978.

The 80’s were a different story with the Patriots owning a 13-6 record over their rivals. The Patriots won the first game between the two in the strike year (24-13) but the Colts swept the Pats in 1983. The second meeting in 83′ also marked the first overtime game ever between the franchises with Indy winning 29-23 on a fumble return by Johnnie Cooks. That would be the final time the Colts hosted the Patriots in Baltimore as their historically scummy move came in 1984.

The Patriots won the franchise’s first game in the RCA Dome 50-17 in 1984 and that started a six-game winning streak over the Colts that lasted through the 1986 season. The teams split their 1987 and 1988 matchups before a Pats sweep in 1989. The Pats won the 1986 division title – their only one of the decade – while Indy took the AFC East in 1987 just a game ahead of the Pats.

The Patriots finished the 90’s 14-6 against the Colts, but there were some brutally ugly years for both fan bases. In 1990 the Pats beat the Colts early in the year to get to 1-1 but proceeded to lose every game the rest of the way. A year later, the Colts turned in a 1-15 effort of their own but gave the Pats a fight in the second meeting as New England needed overtime to sweep the season matchup.

The teams split in 1992 and 1993 but were both bottom feeders in the NFL. New England swept in 94, Indy swept in 95 and the Patriots went on to go 7-1 from 1996-1999 with a Super Bowl appearance against the Packers thrown in there too. I vividly remember the second game in 1997 as it was my first game ever and a certain college coach named Jim Harbaugh was the starting quarterback for the guys with the horseshoes on their helmets. The Pats won the division title in 96 and 97 and Indy claimed its only AFC East crown of the decade in 1999 a year after Peyton Manning entered the league.

The 2000’s were when this rivalry was at its absolute peak, even though the AFC East rivalry was about to disappear soon. In 2000 – Belichick’s first year with the Pats – the teams split, both winning at home. In 2001 Tom Brady’s first career start came against the Colts and he proceeded to go 6-0 against Indy in his first six games, including the playoff wins in 2003 and 2004 as well as the famous regular season finale with Willie McGinest stuffing Edgerrin James at the 1-yard line then racing downfield with his finger in the air. Even without the two matchups a year, the 2003 and 2004 games are arguably the best ever in the series.

Peyton Manning didn’t get his first win over Tom Brady until 2005, but he went 3-0 (including that 06 AFCCG) until the epic 2007 meeting when both teams entered unbeaten at 8-0 (Pats) and 7-0. Brady would win that game 24-20, but Indy won the first ever meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 and then again on “4th & 2” in 2009 to close out the decade.

Things obviously weren’t nearly as intense once Manning headed to Denver and with the league’s scheduling quirks, the Patriots and Colts only played eight times in the 2010’s, with New England going 8-0. Of course of those eight wins, the most famous one is the 2014 AFC title game that kicked off Deflategate and kind of lit another fire under this rivalry.

New England leads the all-time series 52-29 and it’s good to have things heating up between these two teams again. For those of us old enough to remember some of the classic AFC East battles the Colts and Patriots had as both were trying to establish themselves as legitimate threats to the rest of the league, it’ll never quite be the same, but Saturday’s matchup should reignite some of that old school hate that can still exist in sports if we look hard enough.