Indiana plates leave old Colts flat

State raises stadium funds with tags bearing familiar numbers


The old Baltimore Colts couldn't get a new stadium built here, but they are helping to get one in Indianapolis.

And they are not especially happy about it.

Specialty license plates bearing the retired numbers of Hall of Famers John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry and Gino Marchetti are on sale in Indiana in a promotion that will help finance the Indianapolis Colts' new $500 million stadium.

"I don't like it, because I don't particularly want to be associated with them," said Moore, who lives in Randallstown. "But what can you do? If you can do something, count me in. I'm more associated with the Ravens."

John C. Unitas Jr., son of the late quarterback, is trying to block the state of Indiana from selling five license plates with No. 19 on them, starting with "QB 19."

As president and chief executive officer of Unitas Management Corp., Unitas has been protecting his father's intellectual property rights for more than 12 years.

"It's another egregious violation of my father's rights," Unitas said. "If I don't set a precedent with them and all others, all I do goes for naught."

After learning this week of Indiana's plans to sell plates with his father's number, he asked Curtis Management Group Worldwide to intercede. CMG serves as a watchdog for the intellectual property rights of celebrities and athletes, both dead and living.

Larry Molnar, legal counsel for CMG in Indianapolis, declined to address the issues in the case yesterday.

"At this point, all I can say is this is ongoing," Molnar said. "I'm confident it will get handled."

Governor's proposal

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels first proposed the idea of specialty plates in conjunction with the new stadium last year. In November, the Republican announced plans to sell the plates.

"It was never our intention to create any ill feelings," said Marc Lotter, communications director for Daniels' office. "The governor said when he launched this, it was to be a fun exercise. In a gesture of good will, as soon as we found out [about the younger Unitas' dissatisfaction], we removed Mr. Unitas' name from our Web site."

The goal of the project is to raise $500,000 a year to help pay off $1 billion in bonds for the stadium and the expansion of the convention center. Construction on the new stadium, just south of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, has begun.

According to Lotter, there are 429 license plates available to Indiana motorists with combinations of current and former stars' numbers. Those combinations have different prefixes, including a position prefix (QB for quarterback) and a team prefix (IC for Indianapolis Colts). Other prefixes are GO, TD and OF (for offense).

Plates are mostly white with a blue horseshoe in the background. They also feature a rendering of a Colts helmet.

The cost of most plates is $35, with $20 going to stadium expenses.

Most of the plates will go on sale next month. However, the most popular combinations of numbers and letters have been offered in an auction at an Indiana Internet site for weeks.

Not surprisingly, the biggest bid has gone for star quarterback Peyton Manning's "QB 18" plate. As of yesterday, that bid was for $3,505.

Unitas' "QB 19" plate has a high bid of $505. He ranked seventh on the list after Manning, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley, Jim Harbaugh, Dwight Freeney and Dallas Clark.

The highest bid on a Berry plate is $180; on a Marchetti, $75, and on a Moore, $70. Bidding in the auction of the most popular combinations ends today at 5 p.m.

Colts Hall of Fame defensive tackle Art Donovan does not have a plate, although buyers could get his number 70 with other letters.

`It's blasphemy'

Reaction to the plan for financing Indianapolis' new stadium ranged from amused to outraged.

"It's blasphemy," said Jerry Kelly, 72, of Reisterstown, a diehard fan of the Baltimore Colts. "They're doing this to pay for a new stadium? I hope the thing collapses.

"Those people are grave robbers. They want to put our team's numbers on their license plates and ride on the coattails of the Baltimore Colts."

Kelly said he hopes he never sees an Indiana car bearing such plates, "but if I do, I hope they're in a Volkswagen and I'm in a Hummer."

Berry, who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn., took the news of his involvement with a touch of humor and sarcasm.

"I just hope somebody buys one of my license plates," he said. "You never know. It's kind of like running for public office.

"If it's a sale goal of $1 million, I think they ought to cut me in on a little of it. You can print that. Other than that, I know it's going for a good cause. We all know these NFL teams are pressed for money. We ought to help out all we can."

Marchetti, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, said he didn't particularly care what the Colts did and wasn't flattered that his number was chosen for the auction.

"No, I'm not flattered by anything they would do," he said. "I'm an old Baltimore man. I feel that way. If Baltimore City was doing something and they left me out, then I would really feel hurt.

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