Old Colts realize $3 seats won't get a team here now

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 20, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

One. Hundred. Five. Thousand.

Dollars.

"A hundred and five thousand? For football tickets?" says Artie Donovan, the former Baltimore Colt defensive tackle, when he hears the numbers. His voice hits a key Rosa Ponselle might have envied for grand operatic occasions.

"What do you get for $105,000? Free drinks?" asks Jim Parker, the former Colt offensive lineman. "That's more than I paid for my house."

The two of them are sitting at a corner table with old teammates Lenny Moore, Tom Matte and Jim Mutscheller, where the future has arrived just in time to push aside the past.

Baltimore's bid for a pro football team has now entered its final, intense phase under a tent on a Camden Yards parking lot, where corporate executives are being asked to buy luxury seats for a team that doesn't yet exist as a gesture of faith to a league that might not even care.

As the price of a luxury suite on the 50-yard line is $105,000 -- per season -- this naturally provokes a certain reaction among the old Colts, invited here to lend an emotional touch and, as a bonus, some perspective.

"A hundred-five thousand," Mutscheller, the former tight end, whistles. "Heck, my first season, back in '54, a ticket on the

50-yard line in the upper deck was $3. You got the whole season ticket package for $18, and every time they sent one of us out to talk to a civic group, management asked us if we'd talk it up."

Moore, the Hall of Fame halfback, shakes his head in disbelief. In 1956, as the Colts' No. 1 draft choice, he was paid $10,000. A year later the club signed Parker, the Hall of Fame blocker, as their No. 1 draft choice. He got $12,500.

"How come you got more than me?" Moore asks Parker.

"Inflation," says Parker. "Kellett" -- Don Kellett, the Colts' general manager -- "sat me down in a room and gave me 1,500 one-dollar bills. He said, 'Look at this, son.' My wife said, 'Take it, fool.' We took all those bills and put them in the bathtub and counted them."

Liquid assets, no doubt. The most Parker made in his entire career was $34,000 a year. Moore, $40,000.

"Hey," Donovan cries across the table now. "When I came up in '50, the whole team combined didn't make $105,000."

Everybody laughs. At today's prices, it's cheaper than therapy. The old football war horses played too soon for their own good, but just in time for everybody else's. They were thrilling at any price.

Now the economics of football are all different, and you either laugh at them or find something else to enjoy on Sunday afternoons. Tickets must be bought before Sept. 1 -- 100 sky boxes, ranging in price from $45,000 to $105,000 -- and 7,500 expensive club seats.

If they aren't sold, it sends a message to the pro football expansion committee: Baltimore isn't serious. Everyone, of course, knows better. The bid to bring football here since its disappearance nine years ago has been fervent.

But now comes put-up or shut-up time.

Is it outrageous to talk of $105,000 season tickets? Of course. But this is the modern world of sports economics, which had begun to change as Robert Irsay was running the Colts franchise into the ground and has since changed even more dramatically.

Sober heads talk of wonderful financial fallout from pro football: maybe 1,500 jobs building a new stadium, with $148 million in stadium contracts; another 1,200 new jobs thereafter, with about $100 million a year added to the Maryland economy.

To generate such money, you ask major corporate executives to pay such prices as $105,000 for luxury suites and hope they appreciate the opportunity to shmooze with clients over off-tackle slants.

In St. Louis and Charlotte, they're hearing the same kind of pitch.

Around here, all who were alive during the Colts' glory years remember a time of innocence and $3 tickets, which will never come again.

In the new era, an average season-ticket will easily cost $30 a game. In Charlotte, where they're financing a new ballpark with private funds, the cost of tickets is vastly higher.

It's nice to treasure the old days at Memorial Stadium, but communities must live in the present tense. Thus, money aside, here were the old Colts taking bows at last week's luncheon, and Lenny Moore taking unscheduled control of the microphone.

"You could not imagine the feeling that went through us with the noise from the stands," he said, "and how hurtful it was when the team left. We can't afford to let this get away from us." He paused for a moment, and silence swept through the tent.

"Young people," he said, "ought to have new, young heroes. Not old heroes like us."

Actually, there's room for both. If only the money arrives, and the pro football people give the nod.

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