For at least one Irsay dummy, Philly's a sentimental journey

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 30, 1990|By MICHAEL OLESKER

At the bar of his Bay Cafe in Canton, Tom ''Goose'' Kaiser is talking about a road trip to Philadelphia with a twinkle in his eyes and his tongue firmly embedded in one cheek.

''We talked it over with Bob Irsay,'' he says.

''Irsay?'' I ask. ''The hated Irsay?''

''The dummy,'' Goose declares.

''Exactly,'' I say. ''Irsay the dummy, who owns the Colts.''

''No,'' says Goose, ''the other Irsay dummy. The smarter one.''

In other words, The Dummy. The real dummy. The life-size, legendary Bob Irsay doll that Evening Sun free-lance cartoonist Mike Ricigliano created after Irsay the ingrate sneaked the football Colts out of Baltimore that snowy March night nearly six years ago.

''The Irsay dummy?'' I ask now. ''He's the one you were talking to?''

''Why not?'' says Goose. ''Who am I gonna talk to, the real Irsay?''

Not without a long-distance phone call to Indianapolis and somebody doing simultaneous translations on the truth.

''Anyway,'' says Goose, ''we talked it over with the Irsay dummy, and he said he wanted to go with us.''

Where he's going is Philadelphia. Today, the real Irsay and TC whatever remains of Baltimore's former football team will be playing there, at Veterans Stadium, against the Philadelphia Eagles.

They will have some unexpected visitors.

When Irsay the ingrate puts down whatever he happens to be imbibing at the moment, and gazes across the crowd, he will see a mirror image of himself, but one that is grinning goofily and has money hanging from its clothing.

He's a familiar figure to Baltimoreans. Ricigliano, The Evening Sun's antic sports page cartoonist, created him after Irsay stole the Colts from here.

Ricigliano took his dummy to a Colts-Eagles game in 1984, joined by scores of former Colts fans, and got lots of wonderful response. Also, the Colts lost, 16-7.

''Actually,'' Goose Kaiser remembers, ''they didn't want to let the dummy in the ballpark at first. It was right after the Colts had left town, and the security people thought he'd incite a riot.''

Instead, he initiated a semi-legend.

Chris Thomas began using the dummy on some of his weekend sports spots on WBAL-TV, and eventually it was sold at a charity auction to Bud Craven.

Craven's one of the co-owners of the Bay Cafe. In the mid-'70s, when the Bert Jones-Lydell Mitchell Colts were still playoff contenders, the team had rabid, semiofficial cheerleaders with names like The Wheel and The Spoke. Craven was The Spoke.

Today, he and his dummy will be on one of two buses that will carry about a hundred Baltimoreans to Philadelphia. They'll embark from the Bay Cafe on Boston Street and the Wishing Well on Perring Parkway, having spent $30 a ticket -- including one for the dummy -- to get as close to their former heroes as is possible this side of their memories.

The idea is not merely to watch a football game. With each passing Colt-less year, it becomes increasingly apparent that pro football is not something to be watched without a rooting interest, either emotional or financial.

Without it, the game is merely a bunch of fat guys in science fiction battle gear throwing forearms at each other's vulnerable regions.

Today's pilgrimage to Philadelphia satisfies two urges. It's a declaration that Baltimoreans still care about football and want an expansion team, and it's a collective sneer at the despised Irsay.

T-shirts have been bought and signs printed. Some will urge a return to pro football in Baltimore when the National Football League expands a couple of years down the road. Others, however, will carry messages to Irsay that cannot be printed here because my mother might be reading this.

''Just to let people know we're still here,'' Goose Kaiser explains. ''See, we want to let 'em know there's no hard feelings against the league, because we're looking forward to getting a new team. And we also want Irsay to know that we remember him.''

On any Sunday at his Bay Cafe, as at taverns all over town, big television sets mounted on walls show pro football games for the afternoon patrons. But the games never involve teams that matter to Baltimoreans. All gestures to interest people in the Washington Redskins have gripped almost no one. The attempt to get the one-time St. Louis Cardinals here fizzled when Bill Bidwill moved them to Phoenix.

And so, for a lot of people around here, investing any emotions in pro football comes down to this: rooting against the Indianapolis Colts (who are currently winless and drawing considerable wrath from their new hometown fans) and heaving sighs of relief that Bidwill didn't bring his Cardinals here, since they're not only mediocre (we can live with that) but have by far the highest ticket prices in the NFL (which we can live without.)

''Mainly,'' says Goose Kaiser, ''we're just going to Philadelphia to have a little fun.''

Around here, it's been a long time since fun has had any connection to professional football.

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