Irsay could make two cities winners of the name game

John Steadman

August 20, 1993|By John Steadman

When Jim Irsay, son of Harriet and Bob, proclaimed that to sell the Colts name back to Baltimore would be a "classless" act, he was expressing an undeniable truth. It's what everyone wanted to hear. Applause is deafening.

The city of Baltimore and, presumably, the National Football League are in total accord.

It would, indeed, be "classless" for Irsay or Indianapolis to extract a ransom for a name that belongs to someone else, in this instance the citizens of Baltimore. Bob Irsay and Indianapolis not only stole the team, but also the Baltimore birthright.

The name was created for the Baltimore football team in 1947 and prevailed for 35 years. The genesis evolved from Maryland's inherent love of the horse.

There was a day soon after Paul Tagliabue took over as NFL commissioner when we heard him offer the thought if a team returned to Baltimore, it would be a natural for it to be called the Colts. He offered no promise, only an idea.

Tagliabue knows whereof he speaks. He lived in Maryland long enough to realize what the Colts meant to Baltimore. As the NFL czar, he's aware of what it would mean to put one of the game's most illustrious names back where it belongs. It would relieve the league and Indianapolis of the shame that prevails.

Tagliabue recognizes this is the proper thing -- from a moral, ethical and, yes, even business aspect. As a child he was taught right from wrong. And for Indianapolis to have the name Colts is wrong.

A group that works for Tagliabue, known as NFL Properties, loves nothing better than to send out for coffee, think up trite nicknames for teams and count money accrued from selling souvenirs. Imagine the momentous revenue if the Colts name was restored to Baltimore and Indianapolis picked a new name.

What Indianapolis desperately needs is a fresh start. Tom Clancy, the world-renowned author and iconoclast, says "God, in his mighty wisdom, will see to it Indianapolis never has good luck as long as it holds on to a name pilfered from the city that originated the name and dearly loved it."

Just because a franchise moves, in football or any sport, is no reason to usurp the name. That's not always part of the deal. Baltimore in 1947 inherited the Miami Seahawks and, once here, they became the Colts. Then, in 1953, came the Dallas Texans, who had been, chronologically before that, the Boston Yanks, New York Bulldogs and New York Yanks.

They were rechristened the Colts. It would have been folly to call them the Baltimore Texans or Baltimore Yanks. Just as with the )) Indianapolis Colts. No rhyme nor reason.

For another historic illustration, in baseball, go back to 1903 to find a celebrated example of name change. The Baltimore Orioles became the New York Highlanders, then the Yankees. New York didn't call its team the Orioles, but could have. The same for Indianapolis. It didn't have to use the Colts name.

Jim Irsay, in an interview with The Baltimore Sun's Ken Murray, left scant hope he would return the Colts name. But, in part, he did say, "If the name was sold . . . what a classless act to sell it for money."

All fair-minded men and women agree. So Jim only needs to give it back, the same as when his mother told the Colts' band to keep the uniforms and continue marching.

A well-intending Baltimore partisan, Bob Wolff, suggests the new name be Baltimore Bobcats. Not bad. But then he offers something even better.

Trade that name to Bob Irsay," he said. "Then we have our name, Colts, and his team becomes the Bobcats. Even Bob's Cats, if you want. Call 'em Cats for short."

Chris Ely of WJZ likes Baltimore Knights, with colors of black and old gold, a magnificent combination. So does Bob Biggs of Linthicum Heights. Both insist possibilities for an action-styled logo are extensive.

Bonnie Hemphill prefers Bisons, Bill Neill the Canvasbacks, George Zelinskas the Gulls and Gil Dunn likes Bees -- with the cheerleading squad called the Honey Bees.

It goes on. Nominations are unending. But the perfect solution is for Indianapolis to get its own identity and give back to Baltimore its rightful name, to clean up the past and get on with the game.

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