A strange day for Ravens fans Showdown: Baltimore rooters get sweet revenge as the Colts lose, 38-31, on their first visit since their infamous departure 14 years ago

November 30, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

For the Baltimore football fan, it was a day of such wildly conflicting emotions, you didn't know whether to order a hot dog and a beer or call your analyst.

On a sunny, unseasonably warm afternoon, the Colts returned to town for the first time since their infamous nighttime departure for Indianapolis in the Mayflower moving vans 14 bitter years ago.

In their long-awaited matchup, the Ravens beat the Colts 38-31 in a thrilling game before a roaring crowd of 68,898 at Camden Yards. But even when Ralph Staten's interception of a Peyton Manning pass sealed the win for the Ravens with 1: 13 remaining, for many Ravens fans it was a surreal experience rooting against a team wearing horseshoes painted on its helmets, a team that had been so much a part of the fabric of this city for 30 years.

Baltimore 38, Colts 31.

How weird does that sound?

"Oh, I was torn today," said 40-year-old Mike Gutowski, a Baltimore insurance agent who grew up watching the Baltimore Colts. "Seeing the Colts uniforms was strange. I booed them a little when the game first started, but then I stopped. I just can't boo the horseshoes."

Gutowski, sitting in Section 113 on the lower level, said the game, and the Ravens hard-fought victory, was "sort of like the third movie of the 'Star Wars' trilogy. We're making the circle complete. This represents a form of closure for Baltimore football fans."

Up in Section 547, in a wind-swept corner that seemed as high as the clouds, Dave Harrington, a retired Baltimore County police officer, agreed. "I think now it's time to embrace the black and purple and let the Colts die," he said between sips of beer. "We'll always have our memories. But let the Colts just fade away."

Still, there was a palpable sense of anger swirling around the stadium all afternoon.

Near the end of the game, after Matt Stover's 47-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 7-point lead, dozens of fans turned to the press box and gestured obscenely at Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Irsay, the son of Bob Irsay, the doughy, reviled owner who moved the Colts to Indianapolis on that snowy night in 1984, was visibly shaken by the demonstration and left the press box minutes later.

And in addition to the requisite "Irsay S----" chants, there were plenty of fans such as Tom Brettschneider, 33, of Abingdon waving anti-Colts signs and wearing T-shirts with all manner of slurs directed toward the memory of Bob Irsay, who died in 1997.

"There will never be closure on this," Brettschneider, a manager at Sports in Cockeysville, said solemnly. "There was never closure for the Brooklyn Dodgers fans. And there will never be closure for Baltimore Colts fans."

Dennis Peltz, 46, an engineer from Perry Hall who sat in the lower deck on the 40-yard line, seemed equally unwilling to bury the past.

"I have a deep hatred for anything connected with Indianapolis," he said. "If the NCAA basketball tournament is held in Indianapolis, I can't watch it.

"I hope they never have a winner. I hope their children never have a winner."

As the Ravens stopped a Colts drive and a roar reverberated around the stadium, Peltz jumped to his feet and whooped wildly.

In a moment, though, a wistful look crossed his face.

"Look at those uniforms, though," he said, pointing at the Colts. "Those are still the best uniforms in football."

A day of reflection

For many, it was a day to reflect on that cold, long-ago evening when the moving vans arrived at the Colts complex in Owings Mills to pack up a proud franchise as if it were so much Tupperware.

To Gutowski, the images of that night seem as vivid now.

He recalled seeing a report on Channel 13 that March evening that said the Colts were leaving and "going into a panic and thinking: 'What are we gonna do?' "

"I had this old, beat-up Chevette at the time," he said. "And when I heard that the moving vans were at the Colts complex, I was tempted to go out there and block them with my car."

Fortunately, Gutowski did not hit the road that night after friends pointed out two obvious drawbacks to his plan, namely, that it was insane and that it would probably land him in jail.

When Peltz heard on the radio that the moving vans were rumbling out Interstate 70 toward Indianapolis, he felt a hollowness that remained for many days.

"It was like I heard my parents had died," he said. "It was incredible. I was in a deep depression for weeks."

Several fans recalled seeing news footage of a stunned Mayor William Donald Schaefer stepping out his door the next morning to find an army of reporters and photographers waiting on his lawn, ready to record his reaction.

"I'm trying to retain what little dignity I have left in this matter," said a red-eyed Schaefer then, struggling to keep his composure. "If the Colts had to sneak out of town, at night, it degrades a great city."

With a weary sigh, he continued: "I hate to see a man cry."

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