Indianapolis won 10 years ago -- or did it?

March 29, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In Indianapolis yesterday, there was silence: Not merely a moment of silence, as if mourning the dearly departed, but an all-day silence, an officially decreed silence, as if hoping no one would notice the tainted anniversary of the not-so-dearly un-departed, who are called the Colts.

Precisely 10 years after the snatching of the Baltimore football team and its arrival in Indianapolis, the silence was team policy. A Colts official who requested nervously that his name be kept out of the newspaper said no one associated with the team was allowed to discuss Baltimore, and no one was allowed to discuss the circumstances of the club's move to Indianapolis. Kidnapping is something that even Robert Irsay finds tough to celebrate.

"We think it's in the best interests of the team not to talk about it," the official said. "We've had a lot of proposals to talk about it from the various media, but we don't. That's been our policy for a number of years now."

Yesterday, he said, the local newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, carried not a story, not a paragraph, not a word about the 10-year anniversary. At WISH-TV, Assistant News Editor Jim Scott said they were preparing no stories marking the Colts' first decade in town, and at WRTV-TV, the executive news producer, Jim Bowden, said his station hadn't even thought about it.

"The Colts?" said Scott. "Yeah, they have some fans. You know, kids will always have heroes. But the biggest news around here was the team finally getting rid of the quarterback, Jeff George, who was the hometown kid. He was so bad, everybody in town wanted him gone. I guess the next step is to get rid of the Colts, but nobody's quite suggested that."

"The Colts?" added Bowden. "I was gonna buy some football jerseys for my nephews, and I said to my wife, 'How about some Colts' stuff?' And she said, 'The Colts? No way.' I think they sell less merchandise than any NFL team. Well, what can you say about a team that went 4-and-12 last year?"

For openers, you could say that people in Indianapolis aren't very happy. Some are merely indifferent, but plenty are infuriated after four victories and 12 defeats in 1993, and a combined 10-year record of 59 victories and 100 defeats.

Two years ago, only a one-point victory over a hapless New York Jets team kept the 1-15 Colts from going an entire season winless. In other years, they've gone 3-and-13, and 4-and-12, and 5-and-11.

If it's true that time wounds all heels, then Robert Irsay should be suffering badly today. He turned 71 a few weeks ago, and after 22 years of owning the Colts, he's still searching for a winning team and still trying to live down his wild man reputation.

His home stadium holds 60,129 seats but last year averaged less than 51,000 fans per game. The honeymoon has long since ended, and next year the marital chill begins expressing itself financially: A 10-year deal in which the city of Indianapolis picked up the tab for all unsold seats now ends and will begin costing Irsay.

In Baltimore, we find all of this wonderful, and a sign that perhaps there is some guiding force of morality in the universe, which zaps professional football teams. A plague on Irsay's efforts: If Baltimore can't enjoy the Colts, then no one (except opponents) should.

"I understand the pain in Baltimore, and I regret it," former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut said yesterday. "I know the pain, but I was elected to be mayor of Indianapolis. Cities compete for assets all the time. If you believe in the free enterprise system, what we did was not immoral within the rules."

While Baltimoreans still bleed over the loss of the Colts, maybe it's worth keeping the last 10 years in mind: Who needs a team that loses 100 of 159 games? Who needs such a source of municipal aggravation?

If the Irsay Colts had stayed, the great love affair with the Orioles never would have fully bloomed. Even in the Orioles' glory days, they were always the city's secondary delight. With the Colts gone, the Baltimore major league sports dollar turned exclusively to baseball. Without this, who knows if Edward Bennett Williams might have moved the Orioles to Washington and left us merely with Irsay?

So it's better that they left, isn't it?

Isn't it?

You think this is sour grapes talking?

Ten years later, what did you expect, sweetness and light?

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