The city's anti-Colts passion alive, well

December 16, 2005|By RICK MAESE

You'd think the passion might waver this late in the year. Fifteen weeks into the season, football fans in Baltimore haven't had much to celebrate. Yet this weekend, they'll wake up like every other Sunday and start wishing and hoping and setting their TiVos.

We're not talking about the Ravens right now. On Sunday, a good portion of area football fans will be focusing as much bad energy as they can muster on the Chargers-Colts game.

The Colts have their sights set on history, trying to become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to remain unbeaten the entire season.

Can you feel our negative vibes, Indy? It should be hitting you from the east and should be resonating early in the first quarter Sunday.

If Peyton Manning juggles a snap, if Edgerrin James bobbles a handoff, if Marvin Harrison lets a pass slip through his hands, you might wonder how it could happen. Here in Baltimore, we all know. Most of the people in Charm City believe in football karma, and if Johnny U. has any pull up there in the Eternal End Zone, the Colts will soon reap what they've sown.

The Colts opened their season in Baltimore against the Ravens three months ago, and before the game, I milled around the stadium talking to fans. I was struck by the strong feelings people here still have toward the Colts.

So I posted a question this week on my blog, which debuted earlier this month on The Sun's Web site, asking Baltimore fans whether they're rooting for the Colts, against the Colts or whether everyone is suddenly indifferent.

I shouldn't have been surprised. What hit my inbox makes me fairly certain that Peyton Manning voodoo dolls might be the area's hottest holiday gift.

"I think it would be exciting to see the Colts go undefeated to the Super Bowl ... then lose," wrote one fan. "I am still bitter and always will be. ... As long as there is a Colts NFL team that isn't in Baltimore, they should be cursed forever."

That's not a minority opinion.

So much time has passed, and so much has changed. A good portion of football fans here aren't even old enough to have any memory of the Colts in Baltimore, yet the spirit of that team is still around. No one is going to deny that.

Joe said, "I become angry every time the sports shows talk about the INDY Colts. I like Peyton Manning, but I hope he breaks a leg and the Colts fail."

Larry said, "I don't fault them for taking our football team. I just pity them for being too stupid to come up with their own team name."

Mo said, "[T]hey are still the Colts and I'm still from Baltimore, so no, I won't root for them."

And just in case Baltimore needed another reason to hate Indianapolis, get a load of what they're doing now. State officials in Indiana are leaning on the legacies of Baltimore's heroes in an effort to raise funds to build a new stadium for their Colts.

The state is printing special license plates and auctioning off the numbers of past and present Colts, including four players who made their names in Baltimore.

Anyone who'd ever set foot in Memorial Stadium, I suspect, would tell you that it's just not right.

An outsider might think that Baltimore's forlorn fans should just let it go. In fact, before I moved here and learned what a team can mean to a community, I would've been one of them screaming, "Get over it already, Baltimore!"

By now I realize that anyone saying that just doesn't get it. The Colts weren't a part of a community. They weren't the hardware store or the diner. They're what tied everyone together, the one thing that everybody could feel a part of.

A city like Baltimore is going to be divided by money, crime, drugs, political bickering. The one shared truth, though, was the Colts. Still is for a few.

"It's been more than a generation since [late Colts owner Robert] Irsay drove off in the Mayflower vans," wrote one fan. "Memorial Stadium is gone and Johnny U. is dead, so it feels like it's OK to root for the guys wearing the horseshoe, even if they are from the wrong part of the country."

For a dark period, Baltimore had no football. Many continued to root for the team in Indianapolis. Even after the Ravens began play, some had a hard time identifying with Baltimore's new team. They weren't like the old Colts.

"When you've been a die-hard fan [as I was], as soon as you see the [Colts'] uniform you get a little excited," Garrett wrote. "Kind of like Pavlov's dog, I guess."

Indy, don't expect to feel much of that warm energy. It will be drowned out as you make your playoff run. There are a scant few around here who are indifferent. Many buried their grudge when the Ravens won a Super Bowl before the Colts. The score read: Baltimore 1, Irsay 0.

Today, there are some fans who see Manning and remember Unitas. They see James and remember Lenny Moore. They see Harrison and remember Raymond Berry.

But most fans just see that horseshoe and remember the Mayflower trucks.

That makes forgiving difficult, even in this holiday season.

"The Colts betrayed Baltimore. ... Until they relinquish the name, the colors and the uniforms, the current Colts are football imposters and civic traitors," wrote one fan. "I hope they win every game in the regular season and lose the AFC championship in the most heartbreaking, memorable fashion."

Most around here think that would be fitting. You want to know about losing the big one, Indy? Come talk to Baltimore. The people here know about loss.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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