Indianapolis can't claim legacy of beloved Colts Pro Football

On The NFL

November 29, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The New York Jets are going to wear a "Weeb" decal on their helmets for the rest of the season to honor the late Weeb Ewbank, the coach who won the two most significant games in NFL history.

He coached the Jets to victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, the game that earned the AFL parity with the NFL, and guided the Colts to the 1958 overtime triumph against the New York Giants that started the pro football boom.

It would be fitting if the Baltimore Colts could honor Ewbank, but, unfortunately, the team no longer exists.

That's the lesson that will be driven home once again today when the Ravens play host to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Indianapolis Colts still try to claim the legacy of the old Colts. They even have Ewbank's picture in their media guide along with Johnny Unitas and all the other Baltimore Hall of Famers.

But Ewbank never coached the Indianapolis Colts and Unitas never played for them. The Indianapolis Colts would be laughed at if they tried to put "Weeb" decals on their helmets. Not that laughing at the Indianapolis Colts would be anything new.

In effect, the Baltimore Colts died when the late Bob Irsay bought the team in 1972. Irsay couldn't have done a better job of destroying the club if he had done it deliberately. The move in 1984 was just the burial.

The team hasn't had a renaissance in Indianapolis. The Colts have won just two playoffs games in 15 years there and have lost 22 of their past 27 games.

For Baltimore football fans, who haven't had a winning team to cheer for since 1977, it will be a moment to savor today if the Ravens make it 23 of 28.

The Colts are a team with weaknesses that the Ravens should be able to exploit.

They should be able to pound a Colts defense ranked 29th against the run the same way they pounded a Cincinnati defense last week that was ranked 30th.

But a big Ravens victory won't change the fact that Baltimore and pro football lost a legacy with the demise of the Baltimore Colts. Baltimore should have been a Denver, a Green Bay, or a Pittsburgh, cities where the NFL has remained a passion over the decades.

Instead, Baltimore stands as a warning to the NFL that it can't take the fans for granted. The NFL once owned this city and just gave it away to baseball.

There is a group of hard-core football fans in Baltimore who followed the sport after the Colts left, but the NFL is no longer the passion here it once was. It's almost as if a lot of Baltimore fans don't want to risk having their hearts broken a second time. Although the Ravens sell out, Baltimore fans are not riveted in front of their TV sets watching NFL football.

In 1994, when Baltimore didn't have a team, Baltimore's Sunday TV football ratings ranked 30th out of 32 metered markets.

By last year, the ratings had gone up only one-tenth of 1 percent, and the Baltimore ratings fell to 36th of 38th markets because more markets were metered.

Maybe they should show the movie "Diner" on the big screens today to bring back memories of the way the Colts were once loved in Baltimore.

There's one consolation for Baltimore fans. As bad as the 4-7 Ravens are, the 2-9 Colts are worse.

Moving man

When Bob Kraft bought the New England Patriots, he said he had been a Boston Braves fan before the team moved to Milwaukee (and eventually to Atlanta).

"The Braves were my team," he said. "To this day, I regret that they left. A part of me died that day."

That's why it's somewhat ironic that Kraft is moving the Patriots to Hartford, Conn., if the state legislature approves his sweetheart deal, which includes a new stadium plus a guarantee of $17.5 million a year for 10 years of premium seating sales.

Kraft and the NFL, of course, insist the Patriots aren't moving, saying that they're remaining in New England.

No matter how much spin the NFL puts on it, though, Hartford is a long way from Boston or even Foxboro, Mass.

Zebras

Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford may be getting a letter from commissioner Paul Tagliabue after criticizing the officials for several blown calls in the Detroit-Pittsburgh game on Thanksgiving Day.

They even blew the coin flip in overtime, when Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis said tails and the official claimed he said heads.

"The biggest turkey on Thanksgiving had a striped shirt and a white hat," said Ford, even though his team was victorious. "The referees decided this whole game. Two teams play each other and they decided who's going to win it."

NFL personnel are not supposed to criticize the officials, but Ford can argue that truth is the best defense.

Quiet man

Randy Moss is proving that he can play on the field, but the rookie did nothing Thursday to change the perception that he may turn out to be a problem off the field.

After the wide receiver's three-touchdown performance against Dallas, he told reporters, "I don't know what you're standing around for. I don't feel like talking."

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