Move to Indy was covert operation

OTHER VOICES

January 10, 2007|By BOB KRAVITZ | BOB KRAVITZ,The Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis -- It was like a military operation, a bloodless assault on an enemy stronghold. The marching orders, cryptic and limited to a rare few in the know, were coming through in the spring of 1984.

To an Indianapolis-based college student named David Pidgeon, whose father, Dick, was general manager of Hogan Transfer & Storage/Mayflower and wanted his son to help with a job the next afternoon.

To Haydon Hapak, an Indianapolis-born Mayflower employee working in Chicago at the time, who had been told by higher-ups to find trucks along the Eastern seaboard that could rendezvous in Alexandria, Va., for a secret mission outside of Baltimore.

To Paul Nicolas, an operations manager in the local Mayflower office in downtown Indianapolis, whose company's superiors were telling him to organize men to unload a large shipment the next afternoon at a local school.

"It was like being part of a CIA mission," said Hapak, now president of Hogan/Mayflower in Indianapolis. "Everybody had to keep things quiet. When I was looking around for trucks, I was told, `Don't contact our agents in Baltimore.' We didn't want to risk it.

"I still remember, at the eulogy for [former Mayflower president] John B. Smith, [former Mayor William] Hudnut said he remembered the night before the Colts arrived, he knew we were loading the team [at the Baltimore Colts' practice facility], he couldn't sleep a wink, and he later said, `I felt like I had just called General Patton when I called Smith and asked, How are we doing? And Smith said, "Well, I know my troops are out there and they're getting it done. I just don't know exactly where they are right now." ' The next day, we found them in Indy, right where they needed to be."

The trucks rolled out of suburban Baltimore in the dead of the night -- drivers were told, under no circumstances do you stop for anything within the Maryland border -- and hours later, they convened in Carmel, Ind. As the next day dawned, cool and sunny, the area around the school filled with media awaiting the police escort and the Mayflower moving vans.

In Baltimore, hearts were breaking. In Indianapolis, where a new stadium and a new city awaited, hearts were full.

"It was a lot like moving any other company, for the most part," said David Pidgeon, now a project manager at the company. "Except the whirlpools, the weights and some of the other things. I remember they had a guy, [nose tackle] Quinton Ballard, he must have been 380 pounds, and we had one guy about 350, we held the jersey up to him and it wrapped around him completely.

"I'm sure somewhere, somebody's got photos of the [movers] running around in Colts helmets."

By now, nobody truly knows what became of those original Mayflower trucks. That was 23 years ago, and the company has been through a couple of fleets since then. Hapak figures those trucks are now reduced to forgotten parts. As for the original drivers, according to the local Mayflower office, it's not believed any of them currently live in Indianapolis.

These men, though -- Hapak, Pidgeon and Nicolas -- played a small role in ensuring that two cities' histories were forever changed.

There will, of course, be lots of wounds re-opened this week, a lot of history recounted and revised. In the few days since the Colts-Ravens matchup was set, we've continually seen the grainy footage of trucks rolling through the pelting snows. While the Indianapolis Colts have played in Baltimore a couple of times before this, it's this playoff game, this event, that seems to have brought the circumstances of the relocation back into sharper focus.

Does it matter in relation to the game? Obviously not. Some of the players competing Saturday weren't even born when the trucks rolled into Indianapolis. And those who were alive were too young to remember. Maybe it will mean a couple of additional decibels in the stadium Saturday, but as far as the game goes, it's utterly meaningless.

For a certain generation of Baltimoreans, though -- a generation that is older than 30 -- this game and this issue resonate in some very dramatic ways. Even now, even with the Colts entrenched in Indianapolis and the Ravens having won a Super Bowl in their new city, there is still righteous rage and hurt. It's like seeing an old flame with her new husband. Get over it? The Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958, and my dad is still seething.

While Baltimore cannot be begrudged its anger, that city must remember, the people who set the wheels in motion on that move are either no longer with us or no longer are relevant to the issue. The man that city came to hate, Bob Irsay, died in 1997. And the sins of the father should not be visited on the son, who in this case is Jim Irsay, a man who is so spiritually different from his old man, it's hard to believe they were related.

Come Saturday, descendants of the Mayflower will return to their old home. And the men who played their small roles in shaping history, like everybody else in Baltimore and Indianapolis, will kick back and watch. It will be a football game, sure, but it will be so much more.

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star.

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