Man who named Colts says Ravens will do, but it's not same

April 21, 1996|By John Steadman

BERLIN, Md. -- Putting the name Colts on Baltimore's first major-league football team provided Charles Evans with a proud distinction. He had arrived with his wife from the coal-mining town of Pemberton, W.Va., to find employment during World War II, stayed around to raise a family, and in the process became part of history.

Little did he realize he would be cast in such a role. Friends introduce him as the man who named the Colts, and Evans, being a humble sort, even after all this time, isn't accustomed to the attention such a reference brings with it. Following that, he's always asked for an explanation.

Baltimore had gained a franchise in the All-America Football Conference in 1947. The founder and owner was Bob Rodenberg, a former Washington newspaperman who had served in the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the CIA, and had a dream of organizing a team in Baltimore. So a contest was held to name the club that had been transferred from Miami, where it was known as the Seahawks before going bankrupt.

In Baltimore, thanks to Evans, they became the Colts. Two others submitted the same name, he recalls, but his supporting letter earned him the decision from the judges, including Nelson Baker, N. P. "Swami" Clark, Eddie Fenton, Sam Hammerman, Joe Finnerty, Nick Campofreda, and Bob Swindell. "I remember it like it happened today," he said during a visit to his room in the Berlin Nursing Home. "Imagine how gracious it was of Mr. Rodenberg and the publicity man, Tommy Dukehart, coming out to my house on Walkway Court in Middle River to congratulate me and present an autographed football from the team, two season tickets, a radio-phonograph and a floor lamp. I think the runners-up got a case of beer."

With that recollection, his daughter, Rita Flagg, opened a bag to display the football that he has kept for almost 50 years. Most of the names had faded with the passing of time, but it was an official game ball, produced by the Wilson Sporting Goods, Co., and carrying the imprinted name of the commissioner, Jonas Ingram, a retired Navy admiral.

Autographs of team members, for the most part, had disappeared, but the ball is in reasonably good condition. Still legible are the signatures of coach Cecil Isbell, trainer Fitz Lutz, equipment manager John Sanborne and a handful of players, such as Billy Hillenbrand, Andy Dudich, Mike Phillips, Buz Mertes, Augie Lio, Ernie Case and John "Red" Wright, who lives in nearby Salisbury.

That first season of 1947 found Baltimore becoming enthralled with pro football. Romance followed and then a marriage that held up for 35 years until the team was trucked off to Indianapolis in 1984. The name belonged to Baltimore, and even Evans had a claim since he was the originator.

But NFL Properties, the merchandising arm of the league, claimed the copyright, which was nothing less than sinful. NFL Properties wasn't even in business when the Colts were named, yet arbitrarily insisted it controlled its usage. What a crime. Baltimore was not only burglarized of a team, but also of the name Colts that was its property for more than three decades.

Now there's a new name, Ravens, accompanying the club that was torn away from Cleveland. They used to be the Browns but are now doing business in Baltimore. Oddly enough, in the room where Evans was resting from a kidney condition, a great-granddaughter, 2 1/2 years old, is named Raven. So Evans has an identity with the new team because Raven Gronsbell and her sister, 10-month-old Jessica, are part of his extended family.

A grandson, Chuck Zukas, an officer in the Ocean City Police Department, was standing there turning the football over in his hands and hoping the natural light from the window would illuminate the autographs on the ball. The names were difficult to spell out because the letters on the leather had become obscured after all these years.

"That team meant a lot to Baltimore, even though we won only a couple games that first year," said Evans. "I felt badly when the Colts left. I didn't want to believe it. Then when you called to talk to me when I was living down in Cool Ridge, W.Va., I knew it had happened. I wrote a long letter to an Indianapolis newspaper explaining why Baltimore deserved the right to keep the name, but I didn't get an answer and my comments were never printed."

He said when Baltimore got involved in the pursuit of an expansion franchise five years ago, he submitted three names to replace Colts. "One was Thoroughbreds, which I knew was too long; the Lords, after Lord Calvert and Lord Baltimore; and, yes, the Ravens."

So he was the winner in 1947 and had the right name, Ravens, when it came time to again make suggestions. A long-shot coincidence, or maybe Evans just has a feel for thinking of applicable names for a football team. In his opinion, Ravens is merely an "adequate name, nothing more, and believe me it'll never come up to Colts in acceptance."

Although Evans named the team, he was surprised at its success on the field and at the gate. "Until the Colts got to winning those championships, Baltimore was always regarded rTC as a baseball town, but John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan and those other great players helped turn it around. Unitas' game against the Chicago Bears, I believe in 1960, was the greatest I ever saw."

For Charles Evans, the memories of the Colts will never go away. The fact he named them seems secondary to him now, but no fan ever had a stronger claim to the fond legacy they created.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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