INTERVIEW: USA Today Reaches Out to 24×7

Street Talk INTERVIEW: USA Today Reaches Out to 24×7

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Mark Bambach: What’s your background and what was the impetus for starting the Web site?
 
Tony Lombardi: I am a native Baltimorean and I’ve always been a resident.  As a college intern I worked in the Baltimore Colts PR Department and I worked with the NFL spotters during the ’82-’83 seasons recording third down efficiency, time of possession and scoring drives. In 2003 I founded what is now ProFootball24x7.com.
 
While interviewing retired Baltimore Colt Bruce Laird on our weekly radio program a couple of months ago, I learned that the Pro Football Hall of Fame controls how the NFL team histories are presented and not the individual teams.  I had always thought that the Irsay family determined how the Colts are presented in the HOF.  Laird then compared the plight of a retired BALTIMORE Colt to a man adrift at sea.  They don’t feel that their records and their legacy are attached to anything meaningful.  They want to be represented as Baltimore Colts and they are not.  You have to understand that the love affair with that team ran deep.  The movie Diner is not very fictitious!
 
I felt for Bruce and the other Colts and I asked our webmaster D3 Corp to help create a new site that would give an informative and enjoyable account of the Baltimore Colts’ history and to include a petition that we can present to the HOF. I was very clear that I don’t have any intent on campaigning for the return of the Colts’ name and colors.  Baltimore has the Ravens.  BUT, our city and these retired athletes deserve to have their heritage and legacies restored.  That is our mission and it’s the right thing to do.

MB: Joe Horrigan of the Pro Football Hall of Fame says that team records are distinguished by city. For example, Johnny Unitas is in the Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Colt. Even the Hall’s display of the 32 current franchises recognizes players from the Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Rams and St. Louis Cardinals. That assumes a franchise’s legacy, if not its records, continues from one city to another. Is that your primary issue?

 
TL: It is the primary issue!
 
If you had to ask what individual player had the greatest impact in the NFL’s history, that player would be John Unitas.  Johnny in many ways is the NFL’s Babe Ruth.  That championship game in 1958 changed the way America viewed the NFL and the shining star in that game was clearly Unitas. 
 
To this day, Johnny’s family still speaks out about the attachment to Indianapolis.  Johnny himself even went so far to say that he would rather have his records and memorabilia pulled out of Canton if it meant that he was presented with Indianapolis.  His feelings had nothing to do with Indy or its fine citizens.  Johnny never set foot in Indianapolis and he loved Baltimore.  If the NFL is truly honoring the player, shouldn’t he have some say about it?
 
Unitas’ surviving family has said that this petition is something that Johnny would have supported.  And that alone is motivation enough to move forward with this crusade of sorts.
 
Joe Horrigan has stated publicly that the HOF doesn’t rewrite history…they merely present it.  We agree but we say, “Present it accurately!”  To present Unitas within the body of the Indianapolis Colts history isn’t accurate and it rips at the fabric of Baltimore’s football heritage.

MB: Why the petition?

 
TL: We want the HOF to know how passionate Baltimore is on this issue.  The petition helps to galvanize the community and is a clear statement that there exists a unique solidarity in numbers.

MB: On the Web site, it says: "The Baltimore Colts’ heritage is forced upon Indianapolis, a community that now has its own football heritage?" Howis that the case and have you heard objections about this from Indianapolis?

 
TL: Peyton Manning is the poster child for the NFL.  He works hard at his craft – he’s a model citizen off the field and a Hall of Famer on it.  John Unitas admired Peyton and with his Super Bowl XLI victory, Manning has given the Indianapolis Colts their crowning achievement to date upon which they can build their own legacy for future generations to admire.
 
When the Colts moved to Indy, it’s my understanding from some Indy fans that they really wanted their own identity and their own team name and colors.  It’s too late for that now.  But they can’t relate to Unitas, Berry, Moore and Donovan.  It’s not their fault – it was forced upon them.  When Edgerrin James broke a Lenny Moore record or a Lydell Mitchell record, how could they relate to that or feel a sense of accomplishment?
 
If Art Modell hadn’t done the right thing and returned to Cleveland the team name and colors and the Ravens were called the Baltimore Browns, I can tell you that as a devout fan of the Ravens and the NFL, I could not embrace Otto Graham and Jim Brown as our own.  They belong to Cleveland.  Those fans are emotionally attached to those players and those players to that city.

MB: You said "the players who wore the Baltimore Colts’ uniform want this to be changed." Who are some of those players and have they signed your online petition? What have they said to you?

 
TL: Yes some of the players have signed the petition and surviving family members have signed.  The Artie Donovans and Gino Marchettis of the world aren’t exactly computer savvy but we’ll get them in.  All support the effort.  The Unitas family, Lenny Moore, the John Mackey family, Tom Matte, Jim Mutscheller, Rick Volk, Bruce Laird and many others.  They want the Baltimore designation perhaps even more for the city than themselves and that really speaks to their collective selflessness and their affection for Baltimore.

MB: What has been the response from other users?

 
TL: The response has been overwhelming.  I’m not sure what I really expected from this.  When John Gehrig, D3 Corp’s President and I got together, we just wanted to do something that we felt was long overdue.  We weren’t sure if people would embrace it totally or totally disregard it as another emotionally biased plea for the return of the Colts’ name and colors to Baltimore.  That isn’t our quest.  We agree that the name and colors now belong in Indy.  Too much time has passed and besides, we now have the Ravens and the city loves them.
 
But in just a little over 48 hours at the time of this blogging/interview, we have gathered 14,000 signatures.  Local TV stations, radio stations and The Sun have covered it.  The community is behind it.  City Councilman Bob Curran is even introducing a resolution to the City Council at City Hall on Monday to publicly endorse our efforts.  It really is amazing what can be accomplished by a community when a singularity of purpose exists.

MB: What outcome do you hope comes from the petition drive?
 
TL: We want one of two things to happen: Either the HOF presents the Baltimore Colts alone in the HOF with all of the records prior to the Colts’ 1984 season as a standalone set of records; or we want the Baltimore Colts presented with the city of Baltimore along with the Baltimore Ravens, again preserving the Baltimore Colts record for historical significance. 
 
Joe Horrigan has stated that "We love the fact that fans their want to see their heritage preserved. That’s what [the Hall] is all about."
 
We couldn’t agree more and we plan to have many, many thousands who will concur via our petition at coltsheritage.com.
 
*****
 
Be sure to participate in a USA Today blog on this topic.  Simply click here and register: SAVE THEIR BALTIMORE COLTS

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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