CFL Colts take their best shot in name game

June 27, 1994|By John Steadman

Under the most difficult of circumstances, the Baltimore CFL Colts, along with the support of one of the city's most respected law firms, took their best shot on the home grounds of the opposition -- a place called Indianapolis -- to defend their rights to a name that originated in Baltimore.

They were at a decided disadvantage. A victory for the CFL Colts in the matter would be deemed an upset because of having to battle the natural provincialism of going to the post in Indianapolis. We're afraid the subject of the CFL Colts being entitled to use the name CFL Colts has been misunderstood. It then turned into a complex issue that never should have evolved.

The bottom line, in this quest for the truth, is that the name was created in Baltimore when the Colts were founded in 1947 for entry into the All-America Football Conference, then a rival of the National Football League. The NFL, then or in subsequent years, had nothing to do with the name. Now it claims it does, which is farcical if you know the true story of pro football in Baltimore.

We wrote the story when John Unitas, a year after the Colts bolted out of Baltimore for Indianapolis, insisted in a public declaration that the Indianapolis team remove his statistics and all references to him from its records -- including the annual press guide.

The Indianapolis franchise, trying to capitalize on Unitas' prominence and illustrious accomplishments while he represented Baltimore, ignored his demand that it cease and desist. Yet it still tries to trade off his fame and good name by attempting to give an impression, although fraudulent, that he is connected to Indianapolis. That's hokum.

Remember when the Indianapolis club also tried to "unretire" the Hall of Fame jerseys of Gino Marchetti and Raymond Berry during the first season of their defection from Baltimore? Such an insult was so demeaning to the players and the NFL that then-commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped into the dispute and told the Indianapolis Colts not to dare attempt to alter history. The numbers, therefore, stayed retired.

Jim Speros, owner of the new CFL Colts, said if he lost what could be construed as a hometown decision, like used to happen in boxing, that he was going to carry the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. He was applauded for making such a promise.

The attorney for Speros, George Pappas, of Venable, Baetjer and Howard, has made an excellent fight and seemingly has enough truth on his side to win at a higher level of legal debate. Hopefully, if the decision goes against Baltimore in Indianapolis, Pappas will continue to pursue the issue.

The firm he represents has so far contributed its talented resources as a service to Baltimore and its football followers. It's the kind of a pro bono action that brings credit and respect to the lawyers involved, accompanied by cheers from the faithful. Without a doubt, it's what Baltimore attorneys, with a sense of civic pride and righteous indignation, should be doing -- although too few respond to such a responsibility.

In the appeal process, if it's necessary, Pappas should seriously consider utilizing Unitas as a witness. He would be outstanding. With the pressure on and the clock ticking, under game conditions, he was at his best. The same in this kind of a scenario.

If Speros is denied temporary use of the CFL Colts' name, he should merely call his team Baltimore for the time being. He certainly doesn't need to utilize such trite names as Stallions, Ravens and Bombers, which the NFL tried to get him to take in a special "trade deal" if he would stay away from using any reference to CFL Colts.

This would be a first for Baltimore, and for sports, a team without a nickname. More national attention would be brought to the entire episode. The rest of the country and Canada, too, would have the subject in perspective. There's nothing written in parchment, or in stone, that insists a franchise needs to have a name other than the city it represents.

But, then again, upon reflection, maybe the NFL would attempt to go to court and try to prevent the team from being known as Baltimore. What a farce. The selfishness of the NFL and its prejudice against Baltimore is now firmly established. This isn't something that's paranoid. How can it be? The Baltimore bias is totally documented.

If the verdict goes against Speros, and he surrenders without any further legal action, it will show a lack of sincerity after what he has previously said he was going to do. A willingness to accept defeat would be a display of weakness and a bad omen for his team.

Should such a fight necessitate financing, if the law firm is unable to continue its pro bono contribution, then pass the hat to solicit funds from the public sector to carry the battle to still another level.

The hard preparatory work, legally speaking, has been completed. All that's left is the fine tuning to proceed with the battle to prove Baltimore is entitled to holding onto its own name, which is entirely documented in the history of pro football.

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