Speros should stick to his Colts' promise

August 15, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

If the Baltimore professional football team takes another name, it may be guilty of self-destruction. Such a decision certainly would be ignoring what is in its own best interest. Furthermore, it will be reason for a victory celebration in the offices of the National Football League.

Two courts have decreed that Baltimore's Canadian Football League representative can't call itself Colts. So why accommodate the NFL, after it allowed a man to rob the city of a franchise and now is in concert to let the same stiff pilfer its birthright?

Since the name was invented in 1947, when Baltimore was a member of the All-America Conference, you don't need to be a criminal investigator to realize it's a property that was stolen away. Three years later, 1950, Baltimore entered the NFL, taking the enormously popular Colts name with it. Charles Evans, the man who named the team, said he intended the Colts nickname for Baltimore -- certainly not Indianapolis.

Hometown decisions such as this, ignoring what's morally right, have disappointed and disillusioned Americans with the court system.

Meanwhile, Baltimore team owner Jim Speros has actually profited by the way the NFL treated him when he pursued use of the name. It made him a martyr. The bullying tactics of the NFL cuffed him around. This is why, deserved or not, he has become a folk hero.

He has the only team in professional sports without a nickname. So what's wrong with that? The fact Baltimore has been denied use of what it rightfully owns gives Speros an individuality no other city in North America can claim . . . a team devoid of a nickname.

Such a situation brings Baltimore and Speros more attention than they could buy at any price. The no-name Baltimore franchise is a public relations dream. It will continue to be discussed in two countries. The newspaper space, plus mentions on national television and radio, would be otherwise impossible to attain.

Simultaneously, besides the notoriety it brings Speros, the pettiness of the NFL is proven beyond a doubt. However, the minute Speros goes for some such name as Stallions, Steeds or what have you, he'll lose a rare distinction that he and the team now enjoy and one that should be perpetuated, not terminated.

In past conversations, Speros suggested he may not sell enough T-shirts, caps and other paraphernalia if the team lacked a nickname. He sounded as if he was a lodge member of the NFL instead of the rugged individualist ready to go it alone.

It's possible he's also missing out on an important commercial aspect. A souvenir with Baltimore CFL on it, carrying an asterisk that in small letters would read, "We Had A Nickname But It Was Taken Away," would make said merchandise much more desirable and create demand.

Speros has a credibility problem if he gives up. At the home opener in Memorial Stadium, he personally told the fans, over the public address system, that he was going to fight to the last legal resort to win the right to the name Colts. Applause erupted. If you were there you remember his pronouncement.

Now he's quoted in a Sun story by sportswriter Ken Murray saying that he may bail out and give up the ghost of the Colts' name. That's not doing much for his own credibility. You don't promise the public one thing and do another.

If he also wants to please the fans in another way, he should put the name Baltimore across the front of the players' jerseys and on the helmets. This would show how proud he is to be here. It also may pressure the Orioles to do the same instead of ignoring what the fans want -- Baltimore on the road uniform.

Speros has pointed out the legal costs are approaching $250,000. It was reported, from no less an authority than Mayor Kurt Schmoke, that two Baltimore law offices, including the one headed by Ron Shapiro, wanted to take the case without charging a fee. Shapiro didn't get the nod from Speros. Another firm got the assignment.

How they performed, in a losing role, is open to debate. Maybe Speros needs different strategy. Was it pointed out to the judges hearing the case in Indianapolis and Chicago that there's a strong precedent for two cities in the same sport having identical nicknames? We don't know if such evidence was presented but it certainly should have been.

Stop to consider that Indianapolis, of all places, never complained when Cleveland took the name Indians in 1915, which Indianapolis has used since 1903. The same situation prevails to this day in both cities without any confusion. Ditto with the Colts. Hopefully, the Cleveland-Indianapolis name-is-the-same scenario, if it was pointed out, would have carried some relevance to the Baltimore-Indianapolis question.

Speros is on record as saying the Colts name would be pursued all the way to the Supreme Court. Don't quit now.

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