Dark details readily recalled 10 years after Colts' move

March 29, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The resolution to the best-kept secret in Baltimore began to spread like ripples on a turbulent lake on the morning of March 28, 1984.

In Tempe, Ariz., coach Frank Kush was weeding his back yard when he found out by phone that the Baltimore Colts were moving. Owner Robert Irsay would not say where, only that Kush should return immediately to the team's training complex in Owings Mills.

At the complex, Hal Hunter, first lieutenant on Kush's staff, was called into Jim Irsay's office in mid-morning. That's when he learned the ultimate destination was Indianapolis, a fact he was told to safeguard until a 5 o'clock staff meeting.

In Indianapolis, sensing victory was at hand, chief negotiator David R. Frick was briefing Mayor William H. Hudnut's advisory board when confirmation came in another phone call.

"I was surprised at that exact moment," Frick said later, "but in the overall situation, I was not surprised."

The decision to yank the Colts out of Baltimore after 31 NFL seasons and transfer the team to Indianapolis started as a trickle, but ended as a tidal wave. The moving vans arrived after nightfall. Amid snowflakes and tears, a football era ended.

Ten years later, the nightmare of March 28 lingers as the most bitter of memories for Baltimoreans. The flashbacks are still vivid for those who were there. John Lopez, the team's trainer who went to Indianapolis only to return to Baltimore a short while later, remembers the moment it all hit home.

Lopez had spent most of the evening packing boxes of training equipment and medical records. Sometime before midnight, he looked out the window of the training room to see Vince Bagli, longtime local broadcaster, roaming the halls.

"I saw Vince in the hallway, tears streaming down his face," Lopez said. "To see a guy who was an institution in Baltimore -- to see the emotion he had that night -- probably did more to hit me than anything else.

"I didn't say anything to him. A piece of history was ending, so I don't think words could have explained how I felt or how he felt. I was just understanding and looking."

Hunter, who scouted for the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers last season, remembers the day as one of darkness and deception.

"It was kind of exciting because history was being made," he said. "It was like something where I had a dream one night. It seems like it was dark the whole day. I remember the floodlights, the fumes. . . ."

Hunter had gotten his marching orders that morning from Jim Irsay, who would shortly become general manager of the club. Hunter, offensive line coach, was to assemble the coaching staff at 5 p.m., when they were told. When he called his wife later to tell her he would be late, he didn't even tell her about the move.

"I met with the coaches and told them not to tell anyone," Hunter said. "I said, 'If it gets out before the business day ends, they can put a lock on the gate and everything can be detained.' We had to make sure it was at the end of the legal day . . . and the move had to be made between 5 p.m. that night and 8 a.m. the next day."

Hunter had safeguarded the news so well that no one at the complex suspected anything until Walt Gutowski, the public relations director, left the building after playing racquetball with Pete Ward, an administrative assistant.

The coaches were waiting for Gutowski and Ward to leave

before convening their meeting.

"We were standing in our offices, looking out the window, waiting for these guys to go," Hunter said. "Finally, they came out the side door into the parking lot. They stopped dead. There were maybe 12 cars in the lot. They looked at the cars, looked at the building, then came back in."

Suspicious minds

After months of speculation -- the Colts had not yet started to sell season tickets for the 1984 season -- Gutowski was suspicious.

"When I left, I saw the cars," he said. "It looked like lights were on in that side of the building [where the coaches' offices were located]. All the blinds were drawn.

"I never thought they'd move overnight. I was thinking more like the weekend. But I thought I'd go back in, just in case they did it over the weekend. I put some personal things in a box and took it with me."

Ward went home then, too. Unlike Gutowski, who was not offered a job in Indianapolis, he was called back to the complex that night to help in the move.

Gutowski's instincts were proved correct as he watched TV later. That's how most of the players found out, too.

"I was watching TV and there was a news flash," said Nesby Glasgow, a safety who retired a year ago. The station said 'The Colts are moving to Indianapolis tonight, the Mayflower trucks are there.' It was about 10 p.m."

After years of threatened moves, reality was shrouded in disbelief.

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