Ex-Colts could give city unique NFL edge

John Steadman WJB

January 28, 1992|By John Steadman

All the preliminary parts are meshing in Baltimore's campaign to return to the National Football League. It's essential to maintain momentum. Don't let up. Keep the pressure on . . . as must happen with any successful campaign.

Baltimore has been careful not to peak too soon as it positions itself for an expansion franchise. The exhibition between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins on Aug. 28 in Memorial Stadium sold out in 110 minutes on "Super Saturday," the day before the Super Bowl.

All available tickets, 33,000, adding up to a booming total of 59,248, were purchased in the remarkable time of 110 minutes. This surpasses the sales record for an exhibition in 1989 when the Raiders came home to Oakland from Los Angeles to meet the Houston Oilers and 50,642 were bought in a span of three hours.

Baltimore's latest project has been an attention-getter with some NFL owners. More of them would have known about it except they were consumed with the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Joseph Browne, director of communications for the NFL, reacted by saying, "knowing what I do of the traditions and interest in the league in Baltimore, I am frankly not surprised at the showing."

What is important now is for the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland Stadium Authority to find a way to add 2,232 temporary seats to break the all-time mark for a pro football game in Memorial Stadium.

The attendance high is 61,479 when the Colts met the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 13, 1983. Numerous Baltimore business leaders attending the Super Bowl believe trying to go for a record is a realistic endeavor and one that should be pursued. It would give the city the chance to say that after 35 years of pro football it sold out in 110 minutes for an exhibition between two visiting teams and, in the process, is going to establish an all-time crowd mark for pro football in Baltimore.

Such a chance only comes once and it should be achieved. The installation of John Mackey, a nine-year tight end of the Colts, into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 1, will put Baltimore into the spotlight again.

Then the exhibition later the same month. All former Colt players in the area, regardless of how long they were on the team, should be introduced during halftime festivities -- not before because the entire crowd will not have arrived prior to kickoff.

Call it the "parade of stars," starting with Sisto Averno and going alphabetically but reserving the 11 Hall of Fame members -- Art Donovan, Jim Parker, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, John Unitas, Joe Perry, Y.A. Tittle, Ted Hendricks, Mackey and coach Weeb Ewbank -- for the grand finale.

It has to be handled properly to be effective but no other city seeking an expansion club has that kind of background and it needs to be emphasized, if not exploited. Bert Jones, a standout QB of the 1970s, has already expressed an interest. "I want to be there because of what it means," he said during a pre-Super Bowl personal appearance.

The Colts' Band and the Colts Corrals should be highlighted before the game; the players at halftime. No speeches over the public address system or bows by politicians. Pure football.

Baltimore is responding for pro football and that's where the emphasis should be placed. Imagine the effectiveness of a darkened stadium at halftime with a spotlight playing on a set of goal posts and a procession of former Colts walking under them to hear what might be their last round of applause in Memorial Stadium.

Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority, says the Colts' Alumni members, have been exceptionally cooperative in lending support and assistance to the sale of tickets for the exhibition. This would be an ideal way to continue the identity that night.

Baltimore must continue to showcase itself with exciting endeavors. Objective: to link the past with the present to assure a future for Baltimore in pro football.

Much has been accomplished in the preliminary phase. Still, more is needed. For right now, Baltimore must extract the maximum during its return to what might be sentimentally called a football night under and with the stars.

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