Root first, ask questions later is rallying cry of un-Colts fans

June 29, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

When "Big Wheel" Leonard Burrier started spelling it out for the noontime crowd at Harborplace yesterday, they knew exactly what to do: They gave the superfan a C, an O, an L, a T and an S.

It was a show of team spirit, as well as an act of civil disobedience.

The day after a federal judge ordered Baltimore's new Canadian Football League team to stop using the city's old Colts name, several hundred people attending the pep rally at Harborplace blithely ignored him. They wore Baltimore CFL Colts T-shirts. They ogled the Baltimore CFL Colts cheerleaders. They called it as they saw it.

"I waited 10 years for this. They're the Colts to me, I don't care what they call them," declared Joe Herb, 33, who came from Anne Arundel County to support the CFL team that, name or no name, plays its first home exhibition game tonight at Memorial Stadium.

Because of a trademark suit -- the National Football League and the Indianapolis Colts claim ownership of the Colts name -- the new team is calling itself the "Baltimore CFLs" for now.

But it is continuing its fight to bring back the nickname that's for ever embedded in the city's memory -- the one stolen away when the hated Bob Irsay moved the city's NFL team to Indianapolis that dark night 10 years ago.

"The Baltimore Colts belong to Baltimore," said Tom Matte, the former Colt running back turned Camden Yards barbecue chef and limited partner in the CFL franchise. "We can call ourselves whatever, people will still say, 'Colts.' "

Mr. Matte and other former Colts -- including Artie Donovan, Stan White, Bruce Laird, Bill Troup and Ordell Braase -- were introduced at the rally and are among the 60 "alumni" who will attend tonight's exhibition game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They were decidedly more familiar to rally-goers than the CFL team that was introduced at the rally.

Will a football team by any other name be as sweet?

"It loses some of the allure," rally-goer Mike Beczkowski, 24, an account executive at T. Rowe Price, says of an un-Colt team.

"It's the Colts we can identify with, not with the CFL," agrees his co-worker, Ron Chanski, 23.

Others, though, said that to a football-starved city, the name isn't the only important thing.

"The name matters -- it's an inspiration to the people of Baltimore, it has close ties to Baltimore. But we've waited for football for so long, any name they pick, I think people will support it," said April Wise, 23, one of the cheerleaders and an accountant with Ernst & Young.

"It's a new league, it has no connection to the NFL. Give 'em a new name, give 'em new traditions," said Joe Mazzella, 28, a landscaper wearing a T-shirt that similarly reflected his disenchantment with the NFL for failing to give Baltimore an expansion team.

The controversy over the name may actually serve to fire up people who haven't embraced the less familiar CFL as they might have an NFL franchise.

"When I look at this," said rally-goer Fred Abt, 57, a devoted fan of both the old Colts and the new guys that would replace them in Baltimore's heart, "I think, at least it's put the team in the limelight."

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