GETTING OVER THE BALTIMORE COLTS

Street Talk GETTING OVER THE BALTIMORE COLTS

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Many of us have football pedigrees that stretch back to the glory days of the Baltimore Colts. Mine started back in the mid-fifties when, as a young child, my father helped me learn my letters by having me read to him columns about the Colts in the old Evening Sun and the News American.
 
I remember watching the ’58 championship game on our clubroom black and white and our family’s attempt to drive to Friendship Airport to welcome the Colts back home. No, we were not one of the 30,000 who jammed the airport and surrounded the team bus. We couldn’t even get close to the airport! In those days, Friendship was not nearly as large or easily accessible as it is today. We sat in huge jam on Belle Grove Road for hours and finally gave up and headed back to our Highlandtown home.
 
Later my father bought us a blue and white pennant that said "Baltimore Colts 1958 NFL Champions" you know, the one with the white horse, helmet flying, jumping through the goal posts? I still have that tattered banner and it remains, along with beer mugs and ash trays imprinted with the cover page of the win from the Morning Sun, as my most prized sports memorabilia.

As I grew into a teenager in the early to mid sixties, my Sundays revolved around listening to Colts on the radio and watching Johnny Unitas’ heroics on TV. In the mid seventies, now married and working, I was able to finally get a couple of those cherished season tickets at old Memorial Stadium. Chuck Thompson, Vince Bagli, Joe Crogan, memorable voices all. The cost of those tickets — $19 per seat on the 35 yard line!

 
I saw the Colts suffer under the Scotch-induced ownership of Bob Irsay and the heavy-handed management style of Joe Thomas. I watched the Colts grow and prosper under the leadership of Bert Jones and the Sack Pack. And then I sadly witnessed the crowds dwindle as the team regressed into the late seventies and early 80’s. The largest crowd we got in those days was when John Elway returned to Baltimore as he began his first season with the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, we were there more to boo Elway then to root on the Colts. The crowds rarely exceeded 30,000 in those days as we watched the Colts stumble through the players strike, team mismanagement, and Bob Irsay’s drunken, irrational pronouncements. Never again did I see William Donald Schaefer so powerless.

I remember telling my wife as chants of "Irsay sucks, Irsay sucks" reverberated through the stadium, "Honey, Irsay’s not going to put up with this crap much longer. He’s going to move the team." Well, he didn’t put up it with it and he did move the team. The memory of those Mayflower moving fans pulling out of the Colt complex on that snowy March night in 1984 remain by far my most sad sports memory. And our long football diaspora began.

Ironically I watched the same scenario play out about a decade later in Cleveland. In the mid 90’s I was traveling to the Cleveland area for work quite a bit and had adopted the Browns as my favorite team. Art Modell’s team played in a decrepit stadium built for the 1932 Olympics that Cleveland never got, and let me tell you it looked every bit of 60 years old. Repeated calls for state and city help went unheeded as Jacob’s Field and Gund Arena were built and whispers began in Ohio that Art would move.

 
I was driving back to Cleveland Hopkins Airport one November afternoon when Cleveland radio station WTAM broke through with a report from Mark Viviano – then working for WBAL TV – that the Browns were moving to Baltimore! I nearly drove into a jersey barrier on I-480!

At first, I didn’t know how to take it. I was acutely aware of the Browns fans’ angst and anger and I really felt for them. And given how our old team left town in the middle of the night, I felt slightly embarrassed for us and especially how Parris Glendening gloated over the acquisition of an NFL team for Baltimore. And judging by the look on Art Model’s face at the formal announcement ceremony, so did he.

 
And that name – the Ravens. The Ravens? That would take some getting used to. Couldn’t we get the Colt name back from Indy?

Now 10 years later, with many winning seasons and a Super Bowl under our belts, we have come full circle. Unlike some fans my age, I now longer pine for the Colts name. The name and history of the Baltimore Colts will always remain a cherished sports memory for me, but their time is long gone and it’s not coming back. We are a Ravens town drenched in Purple and Black.

 
Nationwide, the name Ravens is synonymous with Baltimore. At home my sports palace is covered with things purple, as well as those blue and white memories of days gone past. I still have the ticket stub from the last Colt game played at Memorial Stadium, as well as the stub from the last game the Ravens played there in 1997. I still have 3 VHS tapes of the pre-game, game, and post-game Super Bowl win. The memories accumulate.

This Sunday we’ll welcome the Indianapolis Colts to M&T Bank, but it will have no special significance for me other than the fact that the Colts now stand in the way of another Ravens’ Super Bowl run. For me, they’re just another team. I’ll cheer against Peyton Manning, but not in a malignant way. Not the way he honors Johnny Unitas every game by wearing a number closest to #19, not the way he tried to honor Unitas’ memory and legacy by wearing black high tops the Sunday after his passing, an honor sadly denied by the No Fun League.

On Sunday, let’s cherish the memories but root for the Purple and Black.

 
Let’s not hate.
 
Instead, let’s just have some good fun.

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Fran "The Fan" Vojik

About Fran "The Fan" Vojik

Fran Vojik has been a contributor to the Ravens24X7 site since 2005, first as a regular on the “Letters to T.L.” page, then as the author of the Fran the Fan column. A huge Orioles and Ravens fan, he defines the term “homer.” A former season ticket holder of the Baltimore Colts, he now roots on the Ravens from his corner end zone seat in M&T Bank Stadium. His work makes him a regular traveler to various MLB and NFL cities and he’s watched both the Birds and Purple and Black in a variety of away stadiums. He brings a passionate and humorous perspective to the world of professional sports. Born in Highlandtown, and a graduate of Calvert Hall College and the University of Maryland, he lives on Furnace Creek in northern Anne Arundel County. He and his girlfriend, Sandy, have recently renovated his Man Cave, known as the “The Sports Palace,” which contains many mementos from the Colts, Ravens, and Orioles. On days the Ravens play at home, Fran can usually be found tailgating at the Baltimore Fire Fighters Union Hall Local 734 , supporting the organization’s Widow’s and Orphan’s fund.

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