Colts memories, ill feelings over move are alive and well

ON THE RAVENS

January 10, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The story line is only three days old, and the old Colts fans have already taken a beating. Didn't the move from Baltimore to Indianapolis happen almost 23 years ago? Can't they just get over it and move on?

For the most part, we have moved on. But we'll never forget. And we don't need stiff-haired, fake-smiling sportscasters and transplanted out-of-towners telling us what to do with our lives. A Baltimore native can tell me about the old Colts, and I'll listen. We can exchange ideas. Anybody else can shut up and take a hike.

We've all bought new cars, but we didn't forget the first one. You might have been married for 20 years, but you don't forget the first kiss on the first date. You don't forget a first bike or the senior prom, and you'll always remember the first touchdown or the first home run.

We're all not dead yet, so we remember the Colts.

I pretty much got over the move a long time ago, but I admit those horseshoes on the side of the helmets irritate me a little. There are others holding major grudges, but what do you expect? The Colts were like family. When you lose a member, you might grieve for a short time, but you never get completely over it.

That's too extreme for me, but I do have the memories. The old Colts were an integral part of Baltimore, as much as crab cakes and Natty Boh.

The Colts entertained us on Sundays with Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Mike Curtis and Gino Marchetti, and ate dinner with us the rest of the week. They lived among us, and during the offseasons they worked in town as truck drivers or furniture movers. They owned restaurants and bowling alleys, and greeted us at the front door.

Baltimore was like a lot of other small cities in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s that established love affairs with their teams. Green Bay was in the fraternity, so was Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Baltimore put the NFL into America's living rooms by winning the 1958 championship in what is often called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." In losing the third Super Bowl to the New York Jets in a game I still won't watch again, the Colts gave the American Football League instant credibility. We had the greatest quarterback of all time (Unitas), a tight end (Mackey) who reinvented the position, and the game's all-time winningest coach (Don Shula).

And then on a snowy night on March 29, 1984, Robert Irsay pulled his team out of Baltimore. What took decades to create was gone, in the hours it took to load a couple of Mayflower moving vans.

And, according to outsiders, we're supposed to "get over it." Forget the feelings, forget the passion, and get over it. That's what my friend from Essex, a New York transplant, told me Sunday night. That's reportedly what one national commentator said early last week about a possible Colts vs. Ravens matchup. Another commentator reportedly chimed in: "Most of those people are dead." Newsflash: Not yet, pal. And stick it in your ear hole.

Actually, some of us are approaching middle age. We grew up in the latter years of Unitas, and were teenagers when Bert Jones and Lydell Mitchell were the big names on offense, and the Colts had a group of defensive linemen called "The Sack Pack."

It's easy to pick on Baltimore, and say we have an inferiority complex. We do, but not this time. Baltimore is reacting no different than Green Bay or Pittsburgh if the Packers or Steelers had moved and then came back for a playoff game. It's not just a Baltimore thing, but the reflection of a great time in the city's history that has passed and will never return again.

This is the era of the salary cap. Players usually hang around for four or five years, and then move on to another team. When the season is over, they usually move back to their hometowns. They have no ties to the community, and not much loyalty to the organization.

The NFL fan base has basically gone corporate. You have to shell out money for permanent seat licenses and then buy season tickets. A lot of the blue collar fans that once crammed into the "Dawg Pound" in Cleveland or the "Insane Asylum" on 33rd Street can no longer afford tickets. There isn't that same emotional attachment, that same raw passion from fans.

But 20 or 30 years from now, our kids will have their own special memories and traditions of what Sundays were like in the fall and winter. They'll remember watching Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis and some great characters like Shannon Sharpe, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

That's a great part of sports. Sometimes in our lives, the memories are the only thing we have left.

I don't fault the present-day Colts or Ravens for not knowing about the history of the move. They shouldn't. Most of them were too young to remember. But this isn't just some grudge match on Baltimore's part. You've got the NFL's best defense against the league's No. 3-ranked offense. You've got Peyton Manning against Ray Lewis. You've got the Colts' receivers going against a Ravens' secondary that starts three former Pro Bowl players.

Pardon us if we get excited. Excuse us if we make it personal because the team that left here almost 23 years ago is coming back to hostile territory. It doesn't get much better than that. Well, it does. If the Colts lose, it would make a lot of us "old-timers" happy again.

And, then maybe we just might "get over it."

Nah. Never.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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