Cedar Cliff Colts, beware: The NFL may be after you

May 04, 1994|By John Steadman

Any minute now, or soon after commissioner Paul Tagliabue is apprised of the situation, it is expected he'll dispatch emissaries from his National Football League office, including the legal arm, to see what can be done about stripping the Cedar Cliff (Pa.) High School team of its nickname.

The school principal, athletic director and head coach may be served an injunction since Cedar Cliff uses the name Colts. In fact, the players wear helmets with horseshoe logos. That's another reason to react. And if the Cedar Cliff youngsters persist in continuing to violate the rules of the NFL, then they, too, may be sued.

How this got past the NFL for all these years is a reflection on

the vigilance of the commissioner and his special agents. Surely, NFL Properties will lodge a protest. Since Cedar Cliff, located in Camp Hill, Pa., was organized in 1959 its athletic teams have been known as the Colts, as in Baltimore Colts.

"Let me make it clear," said Colts coach Bob Craig, an ex-Marine, a former standout wrestler at Lock Haven University and member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, "that we took the name from the Baltimore Colts . . . not from Indianapolis. We followed the Baltimore Colts and respected what they meant to the NFL.

"We admired Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore in particular. By the way, Stan Jones, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is an alumnus of our school. Cedar Cliffs came about by a merger of New Cumberland and Lemoyne. I'd sure like to see the NFL try to tell all the high school teams, there must be 10,000 of them, that use the name Redskins. The same with us and the Colts."

If the NFL has nothing better to do than try to prevent the Baltimore CFL Colts from using the name, then it's only a question of time until they get around to going after Cedar Cliff. Obviously, Tagliabue's crew has been spending too much time on old business and not paying attention to what's happening in the rest of football.

How dare that high school outfit in Pennsylvania to take the name Colts and put horseshoes on their helmets. The NFL, no doubt, will be upset when it realizes Cedar Cliff has been getting away with this blatant violation for over three decades without paying a fee to NFL Properties.

Tagliabue may surely put an end to that, or at least try.

The Baltimore CFL Colts are using a name that was picked in a fan contest in 1947, even before the city joined the NFL. In fact, the league wanted Baltimore to drop Colts and pick a new name in 1953, when the franchise returned. A sportswriter made a speech before the owners at a meeting in the Gunther Tap Room and changed their minds. The late Jim Ellis, of The Evening Sun, seconded the motion.

What the NFL wanted to do then was stamp out any recollection of the All-America Football Conference, which it fought for four years. If it eliminated the name Colts, it would have to tolerate the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers as reminders that another league had been in existence.

In fact, two other teams in Maryland, long before the pro football Colts arrived in Baltimore, were called Colts. This is a part of history. In 1917, the Cumberland Colts played in the Blue Ridge League and also in the years 1925 through 1932 while members of the Middle Atlantic League. And somewhat later, in 1937-38, the Centreville team of the Eastern Shore League was known as the Colts.

That the NFL believes it can prevent Baltimore from using the name accounts for a new level of arrogance. It's a perfect arrangement that Tagliabue and Robert Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who took the team and the name from Baltimore, are aligned in the lawsuit that attempts to knock the CFL Coltsout of the box. They are meant for each other and have a lot in common.

When they talk, Tagliabue will be able to tell Irsay what a basketball star he was at Georgetown and Irsay can describe his own days of playing football for the University of Illinois. The only problem with Irsay is when we once asked him if he had played for Bob Zuppke or Ray Eliot at Illinois he didn't remember the coach's name.

Irsay and Tagliabue will probably call a "council of war" and design a plan to pressure Cedar Cliff High School into dropping the name Colts because, as they might presume, someone may confuse the Cedar Cliff Colts with the Indianapolis Colts.

That's hardly the case. The Cedar Cliff Colts draw crowds and win games.

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