Ex-Colts should steal show at city's NFL showcase in August

John Steadman

July 29, 1992|By John Steadman

Instead of a mere exhibition football game, the emphasis, appropriately, is on making it much more than that. Baltimore has a chance to showcase itself in grand style. Anything less than a first-rate presentation will be a downer, a disappointment.

The pieces are starting to fit together in what has the makings of an extraordinary evening of entertainment. The promotion in the days leading up to the kickoff includes a pep rally at Harborplace, a crab feast at Martin's West banquet hall, a golf tournament at Turf Valley Country Club and, overall, creating a festive atmosphere that will help make the entire effort a positive attention-getter on the way to securing a National Football League expansion team.

The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints will be playing in Memorial Stadium on Aug. 27, but preceding the preseason contest, Baltimore is going to stage a series of functions intended to bring a special focus to the occasion. The most important part will be the gathering of former players, some going back to the initial year of the franchise, 1947.

This is as it should be. Every Colt there deserves an introduction. The emphasis -- literally, the spotlight -- needs to be placed on them. This might well be the last time Baltimore has a chance to hear them introduced and to cheer the contributions of a Sisto Averno and a John "Reds" Wright as well as a Lenny Moore and John Unitas. And, yes, all the rest.

Hopefully, the ineffective way the Orioles rushed their former players on the field following the baseball team's last game at Memorial Stadium will not be repeated. The honor roll is impressive. For most of the Colts, it may be their final visit to Baltimore. The individual dignity and respect they earned must be highlighted on such an auspicious occasion.

The players are being contacted by Joe Ehrmann and his volunteer assistant, Maureen Kilcullen. They are holding the charity crab feast ($75 per ticket) to assist Ehrmann's ministry, "The Door." It is scheduled the night before the game at Martin's West. Travel and hotel arrangements are being handled by Kilcullen and, at last count, she had 70 confirmations.

Walter Gutowski, the Colts' former publicity director now affiliated with the Maryland Stadium Authority, is responsible for bringing all the elements together. He expects the sellout crowd to reach 60,000. When it was suggested the addition of 2,000 more seats would enable Baltimore to establish an all-time high for any kind of a professional football game here, he said, "That's not a bad idea."

It's a one-time chance for Baltimore and every effort should be made to make it the ultimate. Gutowski says when all the tickets were sold in the span of two hours last January it brought favorable reaction. Now, to surpass all attendance figures for 35 years of the Colts' franchise would be another singular distinction. Baltimore should go for it.

John Mackey, who will become the 11th Baltimore Colt to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is to receive his Hall of Fame ring the night of the game. It would be fitting to place it in the pre-game festivities with a circle of Hall of Fame Colts surrounding him, including Art Donovan, Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry, Unitas, Moore, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry (if he can be excused from coaching duties with the Denver Broncos), Ted Hendricks, Gino Marchetti and coach Weeb Ewbank.

Imagine the reception, and then again at halftime, to hear those names recited with the dignity and respect each of them has earned. The Colts, by matter of record, contributed to NFL history the only former player to become governor of a state, one Edward J. King of Massachusetts, a middle guard. He was a teammate of Donovan and Art Spinney at Boston College and then continued a pro football career with the 1950 Colts.

It's uncertain if King will be here but, if asked, will try to be. Paul Salata, an ex-Colt end, part-time movie actor and then a momentous success in business, called from Southern California inquire of the details. Salata, incidentally, organized the thought behind what is called "Irrelevant Week" -- when the last player taken in the entire NFL draft is each year brought to Newport Beach, Calif., to be given a hero's welcome at dinners and receptions befitting a hero.

In fact, Jerry Richardson, another Colts end, the same Jerry Richardson who is trying to acquire a franchise for Charlotte, N.C., would like to be invited. As a former Colt, he deserves to be present. Richardson, after retiring from football, frequently chartered planes at his expense and sent high school teams to Baltimore to see the Colts play.

What the football exhibition offers is an opportunity to put on a momentous reunion for what will represent a cross-section of players who contributed to the 35-year story of the Colts in Baltimore. It has the makings of a party like no other would-be expansion city could begin to create. How it's orchestrated and presented is essential to its success.

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