Horseshoes on horizon

Fans have mixed reaction to Colts' possibly trucking back into town for playoff with Ravens

January 06, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun Reporter

Go, Colts!

Go, Colts?

Those words haven't been heard much around here for years. But a win today by Baltimore's ex-football love - the cold-hearted one that slipped out one night and never looked back - would set up a showdown next week with the region's current flame.

Ravens vs. Colts, in the playoffs, at M&T Bank Stadium. Talk about a chance to settle some scores.

"If we close the door on the Super Bowl for them," said longtime fan Rick Born, a 63-year-old small-business owner from Lutherville, "it will be a sweeter victory for the Ravens."

Some say the sting of losing the Colts, if not erased, has at least been eased. The Ravens beat the Colts in the team's first trip back to Baltimore in 1998, and won a Super Bowl, even as the Colts tried without success to return to the big game.

Almost a quarter-century has passed since the Colts left town.

But ...

Tom Matte, a star from the heyday of the Baltimore Colts, said it would be fun to see the team from Indianapolis come back to get its, well, hindquarters kicked.

"It would make a great day for me," Matte said.

The Ravens, with the No. 2 seed in the NFL's American Football Conference playoffs, are already in the second round. Their opponent next weekend at M&T Bank Stadium will be determined by what happens in this weekend's wild-card games.

But this is certain: If the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Indianapolis, the Colts come to town next weekend. (The game could be Saturday or Sunday.)

Bitter history

The back story is painfully familiar to Baltimore football fans.

The Colts played here from 1953 to 1983 and along the way became something approaching a religion. They scored an overtime victory in the NFL championship contest in 1958 - aka the Greatest Game Ever Played.

There were the two Super Bowl appearances - including a victory in January 1971 - and names like Unitas, Donovan, Moore and Marchetti.

Then, the betrayal of March 28, 1984. Mayflower moving vans rumbled into the Colts complex in Owings Mills, and before the night was over, the franchise had packed up and headed for the Midwest.

For the next 12 years, Baltimore went without football.

"I'll never forgive them," Dennis Peltz, a 54-year-old mechanical engineer from Perry Hall, said of the Colts.

The emotions attached to the saga remain so raw for him that even the possibility the Colts could knock the Ravens out of the playoffs is almost too much to bear.

"I'm going to be a nervous wreck" if the Colts beat the Chiefs, said Peltz. "I'm nervous before every one of [the Ravens'] games, but that one, the down side is too down for me. I'd just as soon avoid it if I could."

But, if the grudge match comes to be, he said, a Ravens win "would mean more to me than winning the Super Bowl."

`Want them to lose'

Jay Anderson, facilities director at the Babe Ruth Museum and Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, said he, too, does not want to see the Colts advance.

"Otherwise, it's going to be such a circus, with Indy coming in here playing Baltimore, that it might take away from the game somewhat," said Anderson, 55. "They've been here before, and we've kind of got that out of our system. All that emotion with Indy and the Colts, I've kind of gotten over that.

"Even though, forever, I want them to lose."

As he was being interviewed at the museum yesterday by radio reporters for a piece on former Oriole Cal Ripken Jr.'s likely entering the baseball Hall of Fame, museum employee Phillip Howard tended the Colts exhibit.

A glass case contains the worn black shoes and blue No. 19 jersey of Unitas. Adorning a wall are newspaper clippings from the day the Colts left town, and a speaker blared radio news reports of the departure, with an emotional Mayor William Donald Schaefer condemning the move.

Howard, 67, said feelings about the Colts - the Baltimore Colts - run deep with him and his wife. "If they lost a game, she couldn't talk to me until Wednesday. She'd be mourning," said Howard, a former longtime resident of Highlandtown who lives with his wife in Linthicum.

Now, he says, "I just think of them as another team. They're just the Indy team."

Dave Kotowski, a Ravens season ticket holder from Mount Airy, said his focus is singular - and it's not on beating the Colts. He's thinking Super Bowl. "You still watch the scoreboard and hope that somehow [the Colts] lose every week," said Kotowski, 43. "But I would get no less pleasure if we beat them in the playoffs or if someone else beat them. I'm focused on [the Super Bowl]."

The Indianapolis Colts, many Baltimore fans are happy to remind you, have never made it to the Super Bowl. The man behind the move, owner Robert Irsay, died in 1997, but his son, Jim Irsay, still owns the team - and that's enough for fans to want to keep the Colts bowl-less, said writer W. Dennis Hand.

"From the people I've talked with and listened to in restaurants and diners and things, everyone says the same thing: `I hope that Irsay never wins a championship,'" said Hand, a Hamilton resident and co-author of The Great Football War, a book on NFL expansion and team relocations in the 1980s and 1990s. "If the Ravens were a part of the reason that [the Colts] don't get to the Super Bowl, I think that would do the city good."

John Ziemann, the former Colts band leader who directs the Ravens' marching band, said many fans have told him they want to see a Ravens-Colts matchup.

"If we beat them in a playoff game, for a lot people it will be put to rest," said Ziemann, who said his feelings were resolved when the Ravens beat the Colts in 1998.

"I see that horseshoe helmet, I think of great memories, I think of heartaches," he said. "But my heart belongs to the purple and gold and that bird helmet."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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