Telling the Browns from the Colts A city's identity: Let the teams move, but leave the names behind.

November 22, 1995

RULERS OF THE National Football League worry about chaos and spectator confusion caused by the current round of musical cities by team owners. The fear is that this could destroy fan loyalties and turn off viewers.

Indeed it could. Teams that have been inextricably tied to their home towns are on the move. The (L.A.) Rams are in St. Louis, the (St. Louis) Cardinals are in Arizona, the (Baltimore) Colts are in Indianapolis, the (Cleveland) Browns are moving to Baltimore and the (Houston) Oilers are moving to Nashville. Other teams looking around now play in Seattle, Phoenix, New England, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. No wonder fans are getting agitated.

Equally alarming is the damage done to a community by yanking an identifiable sports name from a city. The name "Browns" has been an integral part of Clevelanders' lives for a half-century. The name "Colts" was etched in the hearts of Baltimoreans. Even 11 years after the Colts' departure, the pain felt by local fans has not faded.

The NFL ought to wise up. With so many teams switching cities, it is time to establish a firm policy that keeps a long-established team name in the city of origin. For instance, Browns owner Art Modell should be required to transfer the Browns name to NFL headquarters, where it would be held in trust until Cleveland gets a new team. Bob Irsay should be required to do the same thing with the Colts logo, then name his team the Indianpolis Racers -- a moniker far more befitting a team representing that town.

This would end fan confusion. It would certainly ease the mental anguish Baltimoreans have undergone (and Clevelanders are now undergoing). The next Baltimore team should be called the Colts; the next Los Angeles team should be called the Rams; the next Houston team should be the Oilers, etc.

Owners have a right to move their teams. But a town's identity with a given sports name should not be destroyed in the process.

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