SHREVEPORT, La. -- Donald Igwebuike was the perfect hero for Baltimore's coming out party last night.
After four years of exile from pro football, Igwebuike kicked four -- field goals and the CFL Colts whipped the Shreveport Pirates, 33-18, in their Canadian Football League debut.
The exhibition opener between expansion teams turned into Igwebuike's personal showcase before an estimated crowd of 19,000 at Independence Stadium.
He kicked field goals of 28, 55, 24 and 35 yards to celebrate his return and Baltimore's to pro football. The 35-yarder came with 5:12 left in the game.
"I don't know if I'd call it a perfect game," said Igwebuike. "I kick kickoffs, too, and I wasn't very satisfied with my hang time."
He can afford to be picky after last night.
The Colts still needed a big defensive series after Igwebuike's kick sent them ahead, 19-18. Then they got two clinching touchdowns in the final minute to turn a squeaker into a laugher.
It was the first time a professional football team represented Baltimore since 1985, when the Baltimore Stars played in the United States Football League championship game. The last time an NFL team represented the city was on Dec. 18, 1983, a 20-10 Colts victory over the Houston Oilers.
Baltimore's introduction to the CFL was filled with all sorts of Canadian subtitles, including the first "single," which went to Shreveport when Chris Armstrong downed a missed field goal in the end zone.
The Colts committed four turnovers in the game, three in a ragged second quarter. And yet, they still dominated the action.
"It looked like a first game," said coach Don Matthews. "Now we get to see some film, make some corrections, and just hone in. We needed to play a game. Our defense played good all night."
Matthews' defense picked off three Shreveport passes, and halfback Charles Anthony returned one of them 35 yards for the final score. Alvin Walton and Lester Smith had the other interceptions.
"The defense came up big tonight," said quarterback Tracy Ham, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception and lost a fumble. "I'm disappointed in the turnovers I had."
Ham kick-started the offense in the first half by going to the no-huddle offense. And on one series that led to Igwebuike's 55-yard field goal in the second quarter, he threw the same short pass to running back Sheldon Canley in the flat three straight plays. It covered 39 yards.
When a 50-yard Igwebuike field goal was nullified by a penalty for an illegal jersey number, Matthews let him try from 55. "I saw how far the first one went through," Matthews said.
Ham's best offense, though, came on a 95-yard touchdown drive earlier in the second quarter. He completed six of seven passes in the drive, three to Baltimore native Walter Wilson. The last one was a 32-yard scoring pass that saw Wilson dive at the 2 and roll into the end zone.
"They were trying to spot a back and help out deep," Ham said of Shreveport's coverage on the play. "He [Wilson] ran a good route and made a good catch."
Backup quarterback John Congemi completed 12 of 13 passes in the second half, when the Colts scored 17 unanswered points in the last five minutes.
"As long as we play hard, that's all you can ask," Congemi said. "We're going to live on the edge."
It was a precarious position for the Colts, even after Igwebuike gave them a 19-18 lead.
The Colts forced a punt, but Lester Smith fumbled and Shreveport had possession on the Baltimore 24.
After a delay-of-game penalty, middle linebacker Melendez Byrd sacked quarterback Eros Sanchez at the 32.
L Then a game with five lead changes turned for the last time.
On an all-out, strong-side blitz, rush end David Webb reached Sanchez with a host of teammates, and outside linebacker Jesse Becton pulled the ball loose. When Becton recovered it, the rout was on.
"The quarterback saw the pocket decreasing, and we hit him from all sides," Webb said. "He had no where to go."
Said Becton: "I grabbed it out of his arm and it fell right to me."
Jamal Farmer broke off a 34-yard touchdown run moments later to make it 26-18. Then Anthony ran back his interception.
The finish was in contrast to the Colts' first series, in which they lost 26 yards on their first two plays and punted.
The Pirates took over at the Baltimore 37 and two plays later had a 6-0 lead. On second down, David Lucas beat cornerback Karl Anthony on a streak pattern for a 33-yard touchdown pass from Terrence Jones.
The Colts finished with a 353-181 edge in total offense, 26-8 in first downs, and nearly nine minutes in time of possession.
NOTES: The Colts were not happy with the longer, wider part of the Independence Stadium field. Both end zones and the expanded sidelines were sodded in the past few days. There was a marked difference between the American portion of the playing field and the Canadian part. Matthews said the hash marks were 15 feet apart, but are supposed to be 17. "You can't do anything about it," he said. . . . Matthews took Josh Miller to Shreveport as his only punter and left Robert Sims behind. "He's earned that right with his pressure kicks," Matthews said of Miller.
RULING EXPECTED MONDAY
Testimony continued yesterday in the NFL's trademark infringement suit against CFL Colts owner Jim Speros. The judge in the case says he probably will rule on Monday whether Baltimore's team can use the name Colts.