'I am Indy, Indy is me': Robert Mathis finally inducted into Colts Ring of Honor

·4 min read

INDIANAPOLIS — Out of the smoke, Robert Mathis emerged.

One fist raised, wearing his Super Bowl XLI ring, Mathis saluted the Indianapolis faithful before making his way to the stage at midfield.

More than a year after his induction to the Ring of Honor was announced, Mathis, the Colts all-time sack leader and the NFL record holder for forced fumbles and strip sacks, finally got to see his name unveiled at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday in front of 66,140, the largest attendance at a Colts game this season.

"I am so humbled, I am so honored and I'm so proud to call myself an Indiana native," he said. "You guys accepted me from my rookie year. My whole adult life I've been here. I'm not leaving.

"I am Indy. Indy is me."

Honored at halftime of the Colts game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Mathis was joined on stage at midfield by Colts owner Jim Irsay and his longtime pass rushing partner, Dwight Freeney, who bestowed the new blue jacket upon Mathis.

"With this guy behind me, I had nothing to worry about," Freeney, who was inducted in to the Colts Ring of Honor in 2019, said. "Every down, I knew he was going to be there and he was going to make plays for us. Today is his day."

Freeney wasn't the only former teammate in attendance. Fellow Ring of Honor members Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne were at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, as well as Pat McAfee and former coach Chuck Pagano.

Robert Mathis speaks during his Ring of Honor induction ceremony Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Robert Mathis speaks during his Ring of Honor induction ceremony Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Mathis played 14 seasons in the NFL, all while wearing blue and white. An undersized edge rusher out of Alabama A&M, he was selected in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. Mathis was one of three future pro-bowlers picked by the Colts that year along with tight end Dallas Clark and linebacker Cato June.

But the HBCU alum outshone them all. Mathis recorded 3.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in his rookie season, and steadily increased his role in each successive season. Ahead of the 2006 campaign, he was named a starter, and with fellow Colts Ring of Honor member Dwight Freeney, created one of the most fearsome edge rushing duos the league has ever seen.

With Mathis coming with speed off the left and Freeney’s patented spin move on the right, the Colts defense was able to keep up with Peyton Manning’s high-powered offense. Mathis led the team in sacks with 9.5, added 65 tackles and forced four fumbles as Indianapolis defeated the Chicago Bears to win the Super Bowl XLI.

Mathis continued to improve. He was named a pro-bowler three consecutive years from 2008-2010, and in 2009, he and Freeney combined for 23 sacks and helped guide the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV, though Indianapolis lost to the New Orleans Saints.

His greatest season was still to come though.

With Freeney’s impact declining, Mathis’ best season for the Colts came in 2013. He recorded a career-high 19.5 sacks, leading the NFL and setting a franchise record, while his 10 forced fumbles tied an NFL record for forced fumbles in a single season.

"From a fifth-round pick from a small college to one of the most effective and feared defensive players in the NFL, Robert Mathis was a centerpiece of the historic Colts teams of the last two decades," Irsay said in a news release. "He was undersized and underrated, but he made up for it with a motor that wouldn't quit and a flawless technique that outmatched the most talented lineman in the league."

Mathis also strip-sacked Manning in his return to Indianapolis with the Denver Broncos during Week 7, which resulted in a safety to help secure a 39-33 win. 2013 was the lone All-Pro season of Mathis' career.

A torn Achilles tendon caused Mathis to miss the entire 2014 season, but he still had a few milestones to reach. He passed Freeney to become the franchise leader in sacks during the 2015 season, and after announcing his retirement ahead of the final game of the 2017 season, added one more strip sack to increase his NFL record to 54.

"To watch him strip-sack the quarterback – which he did better and more than anyone in NFL history – was a thing of beauty," Irsay said. "What's more, Robert has stayed connected to the Horseshoe and has helped guide and teach our next generation of players. We are so proud that his name and his Hall of Fame-worthy career will be celebrated and remembered in Indianapolis from this day forward."

Since retiring, Mathis has been a pass rush consultant for the Colts. He was originally announced as the 17th member of the Indianapolis Ring of Honor during the 2020 season, but the ceremony was postponed until this season due to COVID-19. Mathis is just the second defensive player to receive the honor.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts: Robert Mathis added to Ring of Honor with Dwight Freeney