Horsefeathers, that's only name for Colts ruling

June 29, 1994|By John Steadman

Now there's an instant martyr in our midst, made possible with the persecution of Jim Speros by the National Football League and a "homer" judge in Indianapolis who can't distinguish the historical difference between the Baltimore Colts and Indianapolis colts.

He should have realized the similarity is about the same as the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association and the Cleveland Indians of the American League. If there's a common thread to be found in such an equation it's that, yes, both teams play baseball but they are as different as the Baltimore Colts and Indianapolis colts.

The CFL Colts of Baltimore and the colts of Indianapolis are easy to differentiate, considering what they stand for in achievement and respect. That Speros called his team the Baltimore CFL Colts and has now been told he can't is a new low in a judicial system that continues to embarrass itself with befogged, befuddled decision-making. Little wonder the public confidence has been shattered.

Meanwhile, the CFL Colts get ready for their coming-out party tonight at Memorial Stadium, a facility erected in 1953 but looking better than it ever has, with a blue and white color scheme. "No question, it's more attractive than any time since it was built," said Bob Leffler, the team's marketing consultant.

The game itself makes for a new exhibition experience in a city that has had professional football since it joined the All-America Conference in 1947 and, before World War II, had a franchise in the Dixie League, along with the numerous exhibitions the Washington Redskins once booked in Baltimore.

The new Baltimore entity tonight will be playing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a Canadian League member with an intriguing nickname. It goes along with such other long-established teams, also with colorful names -- the Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos.

Is it possible the NFL may try to shut down the game or attempt to keep the Colts' Band from playing the team fight song or even prevent the Colt Corrals from cheering?

At a time like this, pity is extended to an ungrateful, money-mad NFL that is a woeful example of what the sports industry is supposed to represent in the basic traits of honesty and character. Don't look for such qualities. There's none to be found. We once asked Robert Irsay, after a tirade of degrading language, if he could explain how it felt to be devoid of human decency? The same question can be directed to the NFL executives . . . with too few exceptions.

They are the money-changers, a collection of no-accounts lacking love of the game. They prefer to worship their own god of selfishness and greed. The Canadian football involvement gives Baltimore a far different identity. It's a game with new rules, 12 players instead of 11, three downs rather than four, and is a fast-moving performance that doesn't figure to become boring.

The reason Baltimore is included in the CFL is because Speros was paying attention and Larry Smith, commissioner of the CFL, was enthralled with the prospect of establishing expansion franchises in this country and coveted Baltimore as a prime location.

Speros moved to fill a void that existed for 10 years, or since Irsay and his henchmen stole the team out of Baltimore under the cover of darkness on March 28, 1984. Now the NFL insists on attempting to control a Colts' name it had nothing to do with creating since it was born in Baltimore three years before the city even entered the National Football League.

Speros and his staff, encouraged by Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who led the way, have given Memorial Stadium an eye-appealing presence. Some leading companies in Maryland have helped immeasurably, such as the Bruning Paint Co., which provided $100,000 worth of paint; Standard Carpeting and Zenith Television.

But others of the corporate community haven't responded, maybe because Gov. William Donald Schaefer doesn't know the CFL from the CIA and has been, at best, lukewarm in his reception. Mayor Schmoke, however, has extended enthusiastic assistance and, without him, the franchise wouldn't be in Baltimore.

Tonight's turnout has been projected to be anywhere between 17,000 and 33,000, which is a wide variance. For old times' sake, a host of former Colts players will be introduced to mark the occasion, plus two former general managers, Dick Szymanski and Ernie Accorsi; ex-personnel director Fred Schubach, soon to be retired as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs; assistant coach and personnel director George Young, now the highly successful general manager of the New York Giants and a longtime observer of Canadian football.

If the concept clicks, Baltimore and the Canadian Football League will be an enjoyable fit, in addition to strengthening ties between two good international neighbors.

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