Colts Band plays a tune of glory written in 1958

December 26, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

It's still there, isn't it? Thirty-five years after the fact -- Dec. 28, 1958 -- it's still inside our heads, Unitas throwing to Berry in the twilight at Yankee Stadium, Myhra coming off the bench in the final seven seconds for the field goal kick, the overtime with Ameche crunching over, and then all of us, an entire city in its glad, giddy, unbounded youth, roaring to the gods.

Colts 23, Giants 17.

This very afternoon, 35 years later, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, the musical equivalent of a government in exile, the only football band without a football team to call its own, will take the field in a stadium in Philadelphia, at halftime of a game between teams called the Eagles and the Saints, and commence to state the obvious:

The fire still burns.

Nine years after the Colts of Robert Irsay fled town, 35 years after Colts of Carroll Rosenbloom electrified the country with an overtime, sudden-death victory in the pro football championship game, we're still carrying the torch.

In Los Angeles these days, Rosenbloom's widow, Georgia Frontiere, owner of the Rams, plays the coy suitor: Yes, she admits, she's toying with the notion of moving to Baltimore. But, no, she says, she wouldn't want to sell the team to anyone from Baltimore. But, yes, she says, she's certainly not happy with her HTC current money situation in California, and yes, she does have fond memories of Baltimore.

In Annapolis, the governor named Schaefer meets the mayor named Kelly, to talk of blocking a move by a football team widely, and incorrectly, believed to belong to her community. She's from Washington. In point of legal fact, the Washington football team does not belong to Washington nor to its fans, but to a man named Cooke, who says he wants to move the club and dares everyone to stop him.

His football team, even in a clinker of a year, fills its stadium to capacity each week. Cooke doesn't care. His football team has a waiting list for season tickets of nearly 50,000 fans. Cooke stifles a yawn. He is 81 years old and has more money than Oprah Winfrey, but not enough money, he says, for his children. He dreams of the splendors of Laurel.

In the process of kissing off the love of one community, Washington, he simultaneously threatens to kill off any possibility of Georgia Frontiere or anyone else moving a team to Baltimore.

And in Philadelphia today, John Ziemann, president of the Baltimore Colts band and chief carrier of the torch of memory, will stride across a football field and strike up the notes to a fight song, and to a time of life that has clearly gone away.

We have to make peace with a few things: Even if Georgia Frontiere moves her football team here, it's still her football team. Even if the National Football League had awarded Baltimore an expansion team, it was never going to be the Baltimore Colts. Even if Robert Irsay discovered he had a soul and moved his football team back to this city, it will never be 1958 again.

There's too much money now, which has lead to greed of a previously unimaginable level, which has also removed all heart from the game. These aren't fans in the stands, they're suckers, imagining there's some emotional connection between the teams and their towns. There isn't, except for temporary geography. The day everybody figures this out is the moment professional football begins to die, for without loyalty, the game is repetitious and boring and without fever.

In Los Angeles, as Georgia Frontiere does her flirting, a collective cry waits to be uttered: "Don't take our team. It's not right to take a team that belongs to one community and move it to another community."

Give it a rest, Franchise Breath.

Los Angeles got its baseball team, called the Dodgers, from a place called Brooklyn, a community that has never been the same. Got its basketball team, called the Lakers, from a place called Minneapolis, which had worshiped at the shrine of a big center named George Mikan. Got one of its football teams, called the Raiders, from the city of Oakland, which merely sold out all its games, and got its other football team, the Rams, from the city of Cleveland. You can look it up in your history books, folks. It's all there.

Professional sports teams go where the money is. A long time ago, the game was played on the field, and not so much in the boardrooms and the courtrooms.

Thirty-five years ago today, it was played at a place called Yankee Stadium. How nice to remember: Unitas hands to Ameche. The Horse lowers his head, and Lenny Moore and George Prease are in front of him throwing blocks. A hole opens. Ameche's in.

Inside our heads it's all still there, isn't it? And, 35 years after the fact, it's nice to know there are still some things they can never take away.

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