Colts name packs lot of horsepower In Indy 500 country, horseshoes are home

March 19, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - If Baltimore football fans were waiting for their counterparts in Indiana to do the right thing, their patience was not rewarded. The Indianapolis Colts are not going to change their name, and local sympathy only goes so far for the city that the horseshoe used to call home.

Walk down any street. Stop in any sports bar. You'll hear the same thing. This is Colts country now. It has been 12 years since the team slipped out of Baltimore under the cover of night and to hear these Hoosiers tell it it's time for Marylanders to get on with their lives.

"This is not a personal opinion, but I've heard a lot of people saying basically, 'Get over it,' " said Roger Brummett, president of the Thundering Herd, the official Indianapolis Colts booster club. "The Colts are here. They are going to be here. They aren't coming back."

Baltimore's transplanted NFL franchise is expected to have a new name any day now, but hopes of a deal to bring back the Colts name and logo were dashed last week, when it became clear that the price was too high for Baltimore owner Art Modell. That may not be very popular on Pratt Street, but it apparently jibes with the prevailing sentiment in Indiana.

"I think a lot of people feel that way because Baltimore has gotten a team," Brummett said. "If there was some angst over the way they lost their team, they shouldn't have that same angst anymore, because they got one the same way."

Many agree that it would have been different 12 years ago, when the team first moved out of Baltimore. No one would have paid much mind if the Colts had left the name behind and started fresh with, say, the Indianapolis Racers, or another name that would identify the team with the community. But the NFL didn't wise up on that score until last month, when the deal was struck to leave the Browns name and colors in Cleveland.

Now, Indianapolis is comfortable with the Colts motif especially in the aftermath of an exciting 1995 season that ended one game short of the Super Bowl.

"I don't know what it is about that horseshoe, but I like it," said Regina Easley, a Colts cheerleader who represented the team at the Pro Bowl this year. "I like the traditional emblems, like the Dallas Cowboys star and the horseshoe. I think everybody feels that way. If you sold [the emblem], it would be like losing your team, even though you didn't really lose it."

There still are some fans here who feel guilty about the way they got their NFL team, just as there are those in Maryland who don't like the way the Browns were spirited out of Cleveland. Colts season-ticket holder Bill Windsor, a state employee from nearby Plainfield, Ind., said he would love to see the team reconsider a name change and develop a new identity.

"I think they should give the Colts name back, and there are other season-ticket holders who agree with me," he said. "We need to get our own identity and our own emblem. The way it is, it's like there's a black cloud over us because we stole the Colts."

Of course, it wasn't just a matter of changing names. It would have changed everything, from the horseshoe to the colors to the name of the booster club and fan magazine (Hoofbeats).

"When they first started talking about [selling the name], customers were saying, 'No way, that shouldn't happen,' " said Jim Jones, a bartender at Rick's Cafe Americain, a popular downtown nightspot. "Most fans seem to genuinely care. But when you bring up the Cleveland argument, people don't want to talk about that, because it's a pretty good argument."

Indianapolis is a town not unlike Cleveland . . . or Baltimore 12 years ago. It's not all that pretty to look at, but it is working hard to build a reputation that's bigger than its small-time Midwestern roots, and sports is playing a major role. The Indiana Pacers are one of the most successful teams in the NBA. The Colts just made the playoffs again and nearly sneaked into the Super Bowl.

If that isn't enough, the area which bills itself as the amateur sports capital of the world has placed bids on almost every major collegiate and pre-Olympic event.

The U.S. Olympic swim trials recently concluded at the Indiana University Natatorium. The NCAA track and field championships took place this month at the RCA Dome, which also played host to an NCAA basketball sub-regional last weekend. Two of the next six NCAA Final Fours are scheduled to be here.

The Indianapolis 500 used to be the only reason that the national media passed through town, unless it was on the way to interview Bob Knight. But things changed with the arrival of the Colts, which is why their name and logo might be more important around here than Baltimoreans realize.

"Personally, I think teams should stay where they built their tradition," said Chaz Smith, an anesthesiology resident at Indiana and Purdue University Medical Center. "But I think people want the Colts name to stay here especially now, because they did so well in the playoffs."

Still, the name apparently has not been a pressing civic issue. The Colts' arrival in 1984 validated the decision in the early 1980s to build the RCA Dome, which remains one of the cornerstones of the city's downtown renaissance.

"I can tell you with all honesty that I've never heard anybody discuss the name," said William K. McGowan, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. "The thing people care about is having a quality team on the field. The fans were extremely excited this year about [quarterback] Jim Harbaugh, because he represented the team and the city very well. That's what people care about."

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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