Football's back in town Unitas welcomes Colts -- CFL style -- back to town

May 28, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

It was a cold, early-morning wind that blew John Unitas across a Towson State practice field yesterday to greet Baltimore's football future.

There, Mr. Colt met the CFL Colts.

Unitas, the brightest star in Baltimore's fabled football past, welcomed the city's newest hope in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened the Canadian Football League team's training camp. In a larger sense, it represented a symbolic passing of the torch. And the star was happy to take part.

"I enjoy seeing football come back to Baltimore," Unitas, warmed by a tan trench coat, said after the ceremony. "Baltimore has always been a football town. This is a different game. It will be interesting to see how people take to it."

Presumably, they will warm to the concept of three downs, 12 men on a side and a wider, longer field. Yesterday's initial workout drew a small but steady flow of fans. Including the afternoon practice, perhaps as many as 250 people had come to catch a glimpse of the future.

It was, nevertheless, a moment to savor. Don Matthews, coach of the CFL team, made that point when he spoke of Unitas' presence.

"It means a lot more to people my age than some players," said Matthews, 54. "I had shivers. It was the first time I ever met John Unitas. It was a thrill."

It was another milestone event for Jim Speros, the team's owner and driving force, who smiled unceasingly through the morning practice.

"It was nice to have John's endorsement," Speros said of Unitas' participation. "He's got the key to Memorial Stadium. He can do anything he wants with the organization. The fans are the big winners here. They have a team to call their own. That's the most important thing."

"To think about what we've been able to get done in three months -- it's a dream come true."

In the three months since Speros was awarded the expansion franchise for $3 million, the organization signed more than 100 players, started a $2 million renovation of Memorial Stadium and sold more than 25,000 season tickets.

Training camp runs five weeks. The Colts open the regular season July 7 in Toronto.

Frank Corto of Timonium was one of those who bought into the CFL concept -- four season tickets' worth, in fact. He was on hand yesterday morning for the official debut of the team, just as he had been back in 1960 when the Buffalo Bills launched a team in the American Football League.

A longtime Bills fan who moved here from Indiana in 1983, Corto can appreciate the difference between the NFL and the CFL.

"Really, the [NFL] game has gone beyond the reach of the common man," he said. "They could have put a salary cap in a long time ago and given money back to the fans.

"This is reasonable. The NFL has become more corporate America. This is for the fans, for people to enjoy the game for what it is."

Tom Galvin of Baltimore was another who came out to see a new beginning. Semi-retired, he used to be a regular at Colts games.

He remembers how it used to be and might be again.

"I hope this team is successful here and young people growing up will get a closeness to the team," he said.

Unitas, who has not discussed a position with the club, said he thinks Baltimore football fans will have to support the CFL Colts or nothing.

"I don't see they have any alternative," he said.

NTC "The commissioner of the NFL [Paul Tagliabue] doesn't want a team here, apparently. I don't see bringing any team in here in the next few years. Baltimore will never support the Washington Redskins. I don't care if they move to Laurel.

"This is the team in town. If you want to see football, go out and support it."

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