Mayor who lured Colts away is now Marylander

Behind Indy's gain, Baltimore's despair

January 10, 2007|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun reporter

If it hadn't been for William H. Hudnut III, the Indianapolis Colts might not exist. Or the Baltimore Ravens. Or this weekend's emotionally fraught playoff game. And without Hudnut, there might have been a little less heartbreak in the world - at least as some people tell the story.

Those who don't forgive and don't forget still view Hudnut as Baltimore's public enemy No. 2 - almost as ignominious as the detested, and now deceased, Colts owner Bob Irsay - for his role in luring away the Colts when he was the mayor of Indianapolis.

Hudnut was responsible for giving his city's negotiation team the go-ahead, telling them to pursue a deal with the Colts "with gusto." He personally secured the fleet of Mayflower moving vans that carted away the team's belongings under cover of darkness. He was the one who lifted Irsay's arm and gave him a champion's welcome to Indianapolis in front of a 20,000-strong crowd.

Yet the man who was given a police escort the first time he visited Baltimore after the Colts' departure now lurks among us.

For the past decade, while working at the Urban Land Institute, a research and education organization, he has quietly lived in Montgomery County. He even served on the Chevy Chase Town Council for six years and as the mayor for two.

But despite his local cachet, he could only laugh during an interview in his Washington office when asked who, then, he would root for when Saturday rolls around.

"I'll have to think about that," he said with a grin that might rankle some unhealed souls. "I think probably the Colts."

After all, his fandom stretches back to the early 1960s when Hudnut, a former Presbyterian minister, was a pastor at an Annapolis church. Sometimes after Sunday services, he would mosey up to Baltimore to watch the Colts play in the old Memorial Stadium.

So, he knows firsthand what the team once meant to Baltimore, yet Hudnut isn't exactly consumed with remorse. Indianapolis didn't steal the Colts, he likes to say, Baltimore lost them. Don't blame him - blame a shoddy stadium, tepid crowds and ceaseless antipathy toward Irsay.

Besides, he says, other cities were already sniffing around, and all he did was join a competition that was sanctioned by the NFL.

"I had to do as mayor of Indianapolis what I thought was best for our city," he said. "Part of my job was to create as much economic development as I could."

In a chapter titled "The Guy Who Stole the Colts" in his 1987 book Minister Mayor, Hudnut wrote of his response to reporters pressing him about the negotiations: "What am I supposed to do - sit on the bank and eat bonbons while the river of history flows by?"

The Colts helped vitalize Indianapolis, he says, turning it from a no place into a someplace, and he is proud that he helped make that possible.

He asked: How mad can Baltimoreans be when they did the same thing a few years later with the Cleveland Browns?

"I don't blame Indianapolis or Mayor Hudnut. ... I didn't really view him as the villain," said Harry Hughes, who was governor of Maryland when the dreaded deal went down. "The culprit is Robert Irsay."

But others still wince at the Hudnut name. Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who saw Baltimore's football team whisked away under his red-rimmed eyes, refused to speak to Hudnut after that.

When they ran into each other once at a White House function, he wouldn't shake his nemesis' hand. "The poorest loser I've ever met in politics," Hudnut says. Schaefer declined to comment yesterday.

If it is any consolation, Hudnut concedes that working with Irsay was difficult.

Also: He feels bad.

"I regret that it caused a lot of hurt in Baltimore," Hudnut said. His time on the Chevy Chase Town Council wasn't exactly penance, but "I wanted to serve Maryland, since I'd been responsible for a painful loss," he said. "I wanted to do something to show I cared about the state."

Those who believe bygones will never be bygones might scoff, but Hudnut claims he even cares about the Ravens.

"On a scale of one to 32, they're my No. 3 choice after the Colts and the Redskins," he said. "I wish them well."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.