With Ravens in city's spotlight, loyalty to Colts fades

Ravens Extra

January 08, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Now that Baltimore's Grudge Match of the Millennium is set, here are a few recollections of life without the Colts and with the Ravens, from an outsider (which I am, by definition, being a D.C. native).

The morals of these stories, as with pretty much every story you'll hear this week: Old loyalties die hard, and time marches on, not necessarily in that order.

Flash back to January 1988, when the Colts reach the playoffs for the first time since arriving in Indianapolis. I am writing for the St. Petersburg Times, and I convince my editor that a story about Baltimore coming to terms with the Colts' success in their new home would be compelling. (I leave out the part about how compelling it would be for me to visit my family during the holidays.)

Upon arrival, I discover a couple of things: There is still a Colts fan club active in town (several, I later learn), and the mood of the city when the Colts are mentioned veers from clinically depressed to psychopathically angry. The consensus: Local fans wish nothing but intense pain on the Irsays, but cannot bring themselves to root against their lifetime loves. Remember, this was only Year 4.

Flash forward to January 2001. Now I'm in San Francisco, the Colts have been gone from Baltimore for more than a decade and a half, and the Ravens are coming to Oakland for the AFC championship game. Time to give the old story a twist. I call Steve Melewski, then a host on WBAL Radio, and discover there's a Ravens fan club in the Bay Area, started by a 24-year-old transplant from Reisterstown named Adam Meister.

Melewski (who these days calls games for the Orioles' farm team in Aberdeen) describes his generation's angst: "Sometimes our city is accused of living in the past too much. But that's because it was such a glorious past."

Meister (now back in Baltimore, involved in community activism and, reportedly, city politics) was 7 when the Colts left. "I remember the Orioles winning the World Series; that's how my sports memory begins," he says. "Then a few months later, I remember something bad happening."

Flash forward to October 2004, a month after I arrived at The Sun. I was getting a tire repaired on Howard Street, and a truck driver was waiting with me for service. A Mayflower truck driver. I find that hilarious, and tell him so, something along the lines of not expecting to see a Mayflower truck in Baltimore ever again.

"Man, all that Mayflower stuff, that's a myth," he says. "People never stopped hiring Mayflower around here. I've heard stories about people calling and cursing us out, people throwing stuff at the trucks, but that's it."

I get my car back, drive up the street, turn a corner, see the Mayflower building on Charles Street, figure that maybe I had been wrong. Two years later, a caller to a local radio station tells the host that he still hated the Colts and still threw things at the trucks every chance he got.

At roughly the same time, I come across the United-affiliated moving company that advertises its role in moving the Browns here from Cleveland - in broad daylight, it must be noted.

Flash forward to April 2005, Opening Day for the Nationals, the return of baseball to Washington 34 years after the Senators left. Fans wear old Senators hats and T-shirts; far more wear Orioles gear, and shout "O!" during the national anthem. Many say that regardless of their glee over the Nats' arrival, they would remain Orioles fans, that they couldn't bring themselves to root against their lifetime loves.

Flash forward to later that spring, my first trip to Sports Legends at Camden Yards. I wanted to check out the Johnny Unitas exhibit and the Colts exhibit. No surprise that both are huge. On prominent display: a replica of the back of a Mayflower truck.

Flash forward to the spring of 2006, as NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue retires. In columns and on blogs on The Sun's Web site, Tagliabue's sordid history with Baltimore's expansion efforts is revisited. Readers respond with a flood of nasty comments affirming that Tagliabue - revered everywhere else around the league - will go down as one of the most hated men in the city's sports history.

Sure, the Ravens had moved here 10 years earlier on his watch, but that "museum" crack will never be forgiven.

Flash forward to last month. Talk show host Tom Davis raises this very topic, wondering where the dividing line is between old Colts fans and new Ravens fans, and whether the old fans are fading away and taking the old memories with them. An older fan, who used to watch the Unitas teams, and a middle-aged fan, who remembers the pain he felt as a kid seeing the moving vans drive away, call in with their thoughts.

Then a younger fan phones in and calls this the most boring conversation he'd ever heard, and would they please shut up and start talking about the Ravens again.

Flash forward to Saturday, as The Sun reports that Ravens rookie safety Dawan Landry innocently asks if Unitas had played on the last Colts team to play here before it moved to Indy.

Old loyalties die hard. Time marches on. Not necessarily in that order.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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