Closing stadium opens door to Colts memories

MIKE LITTWIN

September 30, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Usually, we just ignore them. We pretend there were no moving vans, and that the Colts, if they were kidnapped, were spirited to someplace unknown, perhaps to a galaxy far, far away.

But, lately, admit it, they've been on your minds. I know they've been on mine.

It's a lot of things. I saw those silly -- but yet somehow-so-Baltimore -- Baltimore Colts Marching Band people, who are something like the Flat Earth Society, except that they really, truly believe, although what they really, truly believe I couldn't begin to tell you.

I saw them a few weeks ago at the stadium along with a bunch of old Colts who live among us in quiet memory of all the years before -- the ones before the tragedy when fall meant more than turning leaves and hoping the Redskins lose.

(By the way, Tom Clancy made a politically incorrect but right-on-target observation in making his claim to be a true Baltimorean when he said: "I'd rather sell my children to gypsies than be a Redskin fan.")

It's the closing of the stadium that brings the Colts to mind. It's permanent. They're even going to tear the place down in a year or two. So, yeah, the memories come flooding back, and there's not much you can do about it.

But there's more than that at work. There's also all the talk again of expansion and of rising hopes for a new team to win our affections and the not-quite-credible news that Baltimore could sell 199,000 tickets to each and every game. But I remember when it seemed as if it could sell that many to any Colts game, the days when tickets were harder to come by in town than Alaskan king crab fans.

At the news conference when Clancy announced his interest in owning an expansion team, the writer took care to evoke all those images buried deep in the hearts of so many -- the sellouts and the special fans we knew by name and the special games. Clancy tried to make the case that the modern game of pro football was virtually invented in Baltimore, and, though that may be a stretch, it's not so great a stretch that we're not willing to believe it.

And the questions came -- ones I hadn't heard in a while -- such as if a team came to Baltimore, could we get the Colts' name back from the impostors to the west. That was once a burning issue that now doesn't seem so important.

Anyway, the answer is almost certainly "no," but some people in Brooklyn still think a team called the Dodgers is going to play there again someday. We understand them. And they must understand the objections that people here raise when seeing ++ Johnny Unitas' retired uniform hanging in some indoor monstrosity in the Midwest in a city we still don't even like to mention.

So, yeah, the Colts are on our minds. I know a few people, the fanatics, who have never let them go. They're the ones who root so hard against the present-day Colts, a preoccupation that is nearly as enjoyable as it is futile.

The present-day Colts are so laughingly, wondrously bad that it does a heart good. The fans in their new city have begun to desert them as any right-thinking people would. And the best news is that Bob Irsay, the man his own mother called a devil on Earth, has pledged, in light of their latest string of losses, to get more involved in the team's operation. This is like having Charlie Keating get involved in straightening out your failing savings and loan. It's a godsend for all Colts haters.

They are enough to make a Sunday almost worthwhile. On this most recent Sunday, they lost their fifth game in five tries. You can't ask for more than that, for better than perfection. They're 0-5, and you wonder how it is that, against all odds, they can always somehow manage to get worse.

When the Colts lose, there's a sense of something that is almost like validation. But that isn't enough. Simply rooting against a team is not, in the end, entirely satisfying. Even rooting against the Yankees wouldn't be as much fun if there weren't someone else to root for. The great kick would be to get an expansion team and have that team beat the Colts. There's a day that would mean something.

In the meantime, we have the final weekend at Memorial Stadium to get through. It seems as if everyone in town is going to make it to at least one of the three games. There is a lot to put to rest, after all. There is the baseball team and its much-ridiculed season to remember. No one will be remembering any of it, of course. This weekend is for a deeper memory, and for those who were there way back when, the memory of the world's largest outdoor insane asylum will keep.

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