Preserving Colts history is imperative

February 13, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Osmosis, that's the bone Paul Tagliabue threw us. Osmosis, as in, "I'm sure everyone in Baltimore knows it will acquire the tradition of the Colts by osmosis and many, many other ways."

Such a prince, that commissioner.

Cleveland gets to keep the Browns heritage intact. Baltimore gets osmosis, "a subtle or gradual absorption," according to the Random House dictionary.

Subtle or gradual.

Please.

Maybe we can't get the Colts' name back, but the Baltimore Colts heritage must be preserved, no matter what happened in 1984.

The "Enshrining Mementos Room" at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a lost cause -- curator Joe Horrigan said yesterday that the Colts Hall of Famers will remain part of the Indianapolis exhibit.

But team owner Art Modell said it's likely that the seven numbers retired by the Baltimore Colts -- 19, 22, 24, 70, 77, 82 and 89 -- will remain retired in Baltimore as well as Indianapolis.

"I'm a great believer in honoring past stars, and without giving it much thought, I'm almost certain I'd continue the retired status of those numbers," Modell said.

The numbers belonged to Johnny Unitas, Buddy Young and Lenny Moore; Art Donovan, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry and Gino Marchetti.

They must never again be worn in Baltimore.

Records? We've already got 'em. Baltimore NFL records.

They must stand.

No matter what the NFL decrees, Vinny Testaverde won't set Baltimore passing records unless he outdoes Unitas, and Earnest Byner won't set Baltimore rushing records unless he outdoes Moore.

History is not so easily erased.

Granted, it's in Modell's self-interest to evoke the nostalgia of the old Colts, just as it was in Jim Speros' self-interest to trot them out on behalf of his CFL Stallions.

But proper is proper.

If not for the old Colts, the state wouldn't dare commit $200 million to a new football stadium. If not for the old Colts, the new franchise would mean nothing.

Moore, upon learning that his number might stay retired here, sounded genuinely touched.

"Isn't that beautiful?" he said. "I think that's very honorable, for him to even think of us like that. I had never given it any thought."

In virtually every other way, this team must start over, with a new name, new colors, new coach, even new players. But that doesn't mean an entire city should forget its past.

It's up to us to preserve our heritage, because no one else will. The NFL has shown how much it cares. And the Hall of Fame will only go so far.

There are nine Hall of Fame Colts -- Unitas, Moore and Donovan; Parker, Berry and Marchetti, plus Ted Hendricks, John Mackey and former coach Weeb Ewbank.

Their bronze busts identify their Baltimore heritage. The confusion arises in the Enshrining Mementos Room, where each current team has an exhibit, and the old Colts are linked with Indianapolis.

Why not change it after Baltimore returns to the NFL?

"That will be a different team," Horrigan said. "I would compare it to the Cardinals. They played originally in Chicago. We didn't take the Chicago Cardinals players and put them with the Chicago Bears.

"It's the team, not the city it plays in. If you look at the 30 active teams, virtually all of them have played somewhere else."

Fair enough. But wouldn't it be just as fair to remove the old Colts from the Indianapolis exhibit and put them with Baltimore?

No, Horrigan said, it would only add to the confusion.

"There will be no way to change the Colts as long as that team continues to operate," he said. "We can't take the history away from the team.

"It's a real matter of semantics. Every fan in Baltimore that visits us requests that we change it. But we don't write history. We simply record it."

The NFL does write history, and the Browns settlement preserved Cleveland's football heritage. Horrigan said the Browns' exhibit will remain intact. From the Hall of Fame's standpoint, the franchise has been suspended, that's all.

Could Tagliabue order the Hall of Fame to make an exception for Baltimore? Again, the answer is no. History is history, Horrigan said, and the Hall of Fame operates independently of the NFL.

Again, there's only one solution if we want to honor our past:

Do it ourselves.

The Orioles' four retired numbers -- 4 (Earl Weaver), 5 (Brooks Robinson), 20 (Frank Robinson) and 22 (Jim Palmer) -- are displayed as 4-foot monuments at the north end of the warehouse.

Modell could do the same thing outside the new stadium. Or, he could start a Ring of Stars at the new stadium, like Speros did at Memorial Stadium with the Stallions.

Anything would suffice, as long as the Colts' legacy is restored.

History is too important to leave to osmosis.

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