With all that Colts have meant, 'send-off' was a wound to heart

December 21, 1997|By John Steadman

Demolishing Memorial Stadium, where the memories of 35 years of the Baltimore Colts were created, will be a physical action. Either a loud boom from dynamite or the thud of a wrecking ball. Down it will go. Dealing with the memories, though, entails a fight within the conscience of one's inner self, a cerebral conflict that isn't going to be so easy to resolve.

There's a mental block that, in time, will dissolve for Baltimore football followers. Another team, the Ravens, a surrogate team, deserves the chance to earn the respect and prestige the Colts amassed for themselves. Maybe some of the feeling lingers because the concluding program for the team, held last Sunday at the stadium, on quiet reflection, wasn't much of a ceremony as those things go.

In fact, it was an embarrassment for both the Colts, occupants of the stadium for more than three decades, and the Ravens, who have been trying to establish an identity in only two short seasons. The comparison was always there, Colts vs. Ravens. The Ravens, be they coaches, players or front office, may not admit it, but they were obviously bothered and made to feel uncomfortable because of the persistent recollections of the Colts that were put before them.

The beauty of Baltimore, although some cynics might see it as a weakness, is loyalty to old heroes. Teams and individuals. No doubt, the Colts deserved more attention than they received at their last curtain call. Not even a gold watch or golden expressions of gratitude for what they achieved. Thirty-seven ex-Colts were there (only three of seven Hall of Fame members), and in groups of four or five they were introduced during timeouts and breaks in the action without a word spoken by any of them on the public address system.

It was an ineffective parting of the ways, this separation of the past from the present. The crowd would have enjoyed hearing one more time, if only a hello and goodbye, from John Unitas, Lenny Moore and Art Donovan. "For a grand finale, it was nothing," said John Ringrose. "I'm a NASCAR fan, and when one of those drivers retires, it's a big thing. This was a whole team, 35 years' worth, and it was flat."

Unfortunately, what was believed to be a well-intended farewell lacked continuity or an established theme threaded through the entire program. Devoid of any semblance of drama, it was a poor substitute for what the Colts deserved to have.

Their deeds of yesteryear are rich in achievement, color and historical impact on the game of football. This was totally ignored. What was expected to be a ringing tribute to the Colts, because of their glorious accomplishments, never got off to any kind of a start.

Don't even attempt to compare the Colts' exit from the stadium to what happened when the Orioles left the same facility six years ago. One was a classic, the other a poorly conceived excuse for a final ending to something that rated much more than was portrayed to the crowd. The Orioles made it ring with the smooth continuity of a Broadway production; the Colts, by comparison, weren't in the same league.

It's regrettable that the Ravens and the Colts' Alumni Association, joint sponsors, didn't attempt to invite Lou Grasmick, Baltimore's premier organizer of parades, banquets and rallies, to stage the concluding event at Memorial Stadium. This much is known about Grasmick: It would have been something instead of a nothing. He would have extracted every ounce of drama in the way it was produced.

Grasmick personally scripted the epic farewells to Donovan and Unitas, plus numerous charitable shows involving such show-biz personalities as Eddy Arnold, Charlie Pride, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Chuck Berry, Dave Hardin, Tom Jones and maybe 50 others. He has a touch of organization and presentation that the old Colts and new Ravens could have used. And he does it without compensation, the mere desire to make sure something is done right in his old hometown.

Madeline "Madge" Stanley, who has been attending football games at the stadium for more than 25 years with the group from Club 4100 restaurant, was unhappy over two aspects of the gathering for the Colts. "It was a ceremony that wasn't a ceremony," she said. "Just nothing. They never gave us a chance to become emotional. A lot more could have been done for the fans' enjoyment, this final salute to a team that deserved a decent send-off.

"The other thing that bothered me is that the 'Big Wheel' [Leonard Burrier] was delivering his 'gimme a C' cheer at a crucial time, just 22 seconds remaining and the Ravens' defense was on the field fighting to hold on to a two-point lead. Look, the other team, the Colts, are gone. We got to throw our support behind the new team. The Colts are in the past. The Ravens are the present and future."

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