At Memorial Stadium, fans again under football spell: C-O-L-T-S

June 30, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Lem Satterfield contributed to this article.

They can take away our name, but they can't break our spirit.

That was the message being sent to the NFL last night, packaged in blue and gray and delivered with fervor by the 28,798 fans who sat in the freshly painted seats at Memorial Stadium and cheered Baltimore's Canadian Football League team in its exhibition game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Professional football had returned to the city. And for the first time in 10 years, the game wasn't played by outsiders.

So what if the NFL scored a victory in a federal court in Indianapolis Monday night? There was plenty of support for this team with no name.

Ron Jones, 51, of Abingdon sat next to his future son-in-law, Larry Fenlock, 30. They were the first customers to filter into the upper deck, surprising an usher who didn't realize the gates had opened.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," said Jones, who missed only two Colts games in nine years.

"I lived and died with the Colts. I was here 12 o'clock every Sunday. When they left, I gave up on the NFL. This is our team and we've got to support them.

"I think this is an exciting brand of football. Three downs, a wider field and a lot more action. You're not going to see many running plays. It's going to be bombs away."

It's also bound to be a little confusing for spectators not accustomed to seeing three downs instead of four, a three-minute warning before the end of each half and something called a rouge.

"It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but the rules that are different are minor. It's not nuclear physics," said Steve Baum, 42, of Stevenson.

"There's more passing and I like that," said Harriet Langmead of Parkville. "It got a little confusing when they add a point and then took it away, but I guess that's why they have preseason games, so you can learn."

"I thought it would be difficult to understand the rules," said Brian Bacon, 27, of Randallstown, "but if you just sit back and watch, it looks strange, but it doesn't take very long to understand. I don't think the athletes are quite up to the level of those in the NFL, though."

On a night when people were getting a glimpse of their pro football future, they couldn't help but look into the past.

"To walk up and hear the Colts marching band, it kind of brought a tear to your eye," Fenlock said.

As Winnipeg's starting defense was being introduced, the crowd began spelling out C-O-L-T-S. Each time the public address announcer referred to the home team as Baltimore CFL, the fans would yell "Colts" in unison.

These were not-so-subtle pokes at the NFL for keeping Baltimore from using the name for fear it would cause confusion with the Indianapolis franchise.

"The team name belongs to the city," Jones said.

"Anybody who doesn't know the difference between a horseshoe and a horse's head is a horse's [rear]," said Herb Hare, 62, of Baltimore, dressed in a hat and T-shirt bearing the inscription "Baltimore CFL Colts."

"The NFL knows this town was a football town, and then they come up with this stuff. Let them stay out of here. We've got football now and we're going to back it."

Tom Guy, 32, of Baltimore was vacationing in Ocean City, but drove to Memorial Stadium for the game. He had been a member of the Baltimore Colts marching band from age 16 until the team left for Indianapolis after the 1983 season. He wasn't about to miss this night.

"These will be my seats forever," he said, looking down on the 40-yard line.

Howard Wilson, 66, of Perry Hall never will forget a Colts game many years ago when receiver Jimmy Orr injured his shoulder and had to be taken to Union Memorial Hospital. He later #F returned to the sidelines, was put back into the game and caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass in what became known as "Orrsville."

Last night, Wilson watched some lesser-known receivers like Shannon Culver and Shawn Beals trying to create their own memorable moments.

"As long as this team puts on a good show, it will go over well. You know how this town is," he said.

"If you're a real football fan, you'll accept this," said Fred Tawney, 63, of Perry Hall. "It just feels good to sit in this stadium. It's been a long time."

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