Should fans go for a team or live on memories?

June 28, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

You enter The Golden Arm Restaurant and stroll through yesterday. Pictures on a wall show John Unitas throwing long, show Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry and Jim Parker in their old Colt uniforms, show all of us in the stands in our previous innocence.

"Beautiful, huh?" says a restaurant employee, as you walk in from York Road.

"Beautiful."

"You should see the men's room," he says proudly.

"The men's room?"

"We think it's lovely."

And there it is in the back, the magnificence on the men's room door. It's a printed sign, a memorial to a community's eternal disgust, declaring that the men's room is:

The Bob Irsay Room.

Irsay's gone since 1984, and we're still furious with him. The Colts are gone 10 years now, and it still hurts. In Indianapolis yesterday, a judge finished listening to several days of testimony that included assertions of Baltimore's pain and its desire to hold onto a small symbol of a memory, and he declared: Too bad. Get a life. Or, if not a life, then at least get a name you can call your own.

Once, we could call the Colts our own, but no longer, not according to this judge, who said the Baltimore CFL Colts are, for the moment, the Baltimore CFL No-Names, and that using the nickname is not only a theft of the Indianapolis Colts' property, but of -- Can you believe this? -- all of the goodwill and history they've created over the years.

Around here, as this city's new professional football team prepares for its first home exhibition game, set for tomorrow night at Memorial Stadium against some team which has a name, only nobody much knows it, the decision merely intensifies the bitterness toward Irsay and Indianapolis, and toward the NFL itself.

But the bitterness comes with a self-defensive ambivalence. Yes, we want our name back, but. . . Yes, we hate the NFL, but . . . Yes, we want Baltimore's CFL entry to do well, but . . .

But there's still that matter of getting an NFL team of our own.

In Los Angeles, the NFL Raiders now say they're staying put, despite various overtures to leave. Over the weekend, politicians from Missouri visited with L.A. Rams officials, hoping to seduce them to St. Louis. In Baltimore yesterday, Orioles owner Peter Angelos said none of this, not the Indianapolis decision, not the Raiders' decision, not the Rams' talks, are affecting his game plan, which is to add an NFL team to his portfolio.

"We knew they would talk with St. Louis," he said. "We have our own discussions with the Rams, which are continuing. We expect further meetings in the near future. Obviously, there's nothing conclusive, but I'm optimistic. I think Baltimore's chances are good."

On those grounds, the city hesitates falling in love with its CFL entry, whatever its name might be. Jim Speros, the Baltimore owner, has fought the good fight. He understood the emotional attachment here, understood the good will he'd reap by grabbing the old name, or at least attempting to grab it, and adding the old Colt band, and the old Colt mascot racing around the field, into the mix.

But the same legacy he wishes to tap into also works against him. This city's history is the NFL. As boring as that league's games have become, as bloated and self-important their leadership, and as much as we loathe them for letting Irsay swipe our team and then reject our expansion efforts, this city's return to football still lacks a certain big league legitimacy as a CFL entry.

Speros knows this. He knows it's not the NFL, and he knows not to expect a sellout tomorrow. He knows there's not much of a TV contract to sell the league over the coming season, and he knows he's bringing a slightly foreign game here to fans who once knew not only the names but the numbers of every player, and now will peer down on a field of strangers.

But he's been all over the place this spring, meeting with community groups, hitting the radio talk shows, flying to Indianapolis for the Colt hearings, huddling with his aides yesterday to prep for tomorrow's game.

This is where we begin to make a choice around here: Do we reach for whatever football we can get, no matter the name of the team, no matter the bitter history of the last 10 years -- or do we satisfy ourselves with memories, and with Bob Irsay's name on a men's room door?

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