Barry Levinson's Colts feelings run deep

January 11, 2007|By Barry Levinson | Barry Levinson,Special to The Sun

The upcoming playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts is more than a playoff game. It's a collision of past and present. Nothing could be more disastrous than the Ravens losing to the Colts. It would be a nightmare scenario, a double disaster: 1. the Colts stop the Ravens' quest for football supremacy; 2. the Indianapolis Colts move toward Super Bowl glory. I can't deal with that.

You see, I root against the Indianapolis Colts every time they play. Ever since that Bob Irsay packed up our Colts and stole the team in the dead of night, I root against that team. I want nothing good to happen to that team. Ever.

"Isn't that a little too obsessive?" my friend asks. And then I explain:

"Baltimore became the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL after the Colts left. We put the league on the map with the greatest game ever played. We brought the league to prominence and we were betrayed by a greedy owner who never loved the game or the city of Baltimore. And here's the biggest hurt ... for 12 years we suffered without a new football team. We were ignored, forgotten, left for dead. Was Baltimore a bad football town? Did it lack enthusiasm for the sport? Ask the Baltimore Colts Marching Band. They marched for 12 years after the Colts left. They marched every football season, even without a team. Does that sound like a city that is indifferent? There they were in their blue and white with the horseshoes on their outfits playing the Baltimore Colts marching song. They marched even though the team was gone.

"I was there in 1992 when Baltimore held a `Give Us The Ball Day,' a promotional stunt to show the NFL that we were still a great football city. The stadium was packed as we watched two NFL teams play. We cheered, yelled and applauded like the good football fans we were, but we got no respect. Expansion came and the NFL added more teams. Baltimore got no respect. Florida was awarded a third team. A third team! Even Carolina got a team. We got no respect.

"Art Modell brought the Browns to Baltimore, which was certainly disastrous for the fans in Cleveland, but that city got to keep the name. Within a few years they got a new team and once again they were the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore never got the Colts name back."

"What's the big deal?" my friend asks. "You've got the Ravens now. Be happy."

And I explain to this outsider: "You know what it's like to have memory that you are only partially involved in?"

"What?" he asks.

"I watched one of those NFL shows. It was about the Colts - the great team and players. They mentioned John Unitas and Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry and Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning, but the problem is they've mixed up the players from the Baltimore franchise and the Indianapolis franchise. Manning and Harrison should never have been Colts, not if they played in Indianapolis ... maybe they should have been the Racers or the Indianapolis Speeders or the Wheels, but not Colts. The Colts belong to Baltimore."

I was at the first game the Baltimore Colts played in 1953. My father got me a season ticket and I saw every game until I went off to college. In 1998, I was at the first game that the Indianapolis Colts played in Baltimore against the Ravens. I had the privilege of being on the sideline in the second half and there I was standing next to THE MAN - Johnny Unitas. We watched the game and at one point I said to him: "It's tough, isn't it, having to root against the horseshoe?" He nodded. He didn't have to say any more. Old wounds don't heal easily in football. Here was a man who came to greatness, who represented everything that was special about Baltimore Colts football - a working class hero living in a working class town. He looked at the familiar uniform, but now it belonged to the other side ... the team to root against.

This was Manning's first year and the young quarterback moved the Indianapolis Colts well on one drive. Unitas said: "This kid's going to be good." When THE MAN says "good," he may very well mean "great." Unitas did not speak hyperbole, great Manning has become. He wears blue and white with the horseshoe on his helmet. A Colt. A great Colt ... but the wrong town.

Baltimore has been fortunate in football. Five years after the Colts arrived, they were World Champions, beating the Giants. Five years after the Ravens came to town, they were the Super Bowl Champions. Again, beating the Giants. Both times the Giants were a team from New York. They were lucky to have the same name, a continuous history. Baltimore was not as fortunate. We won as the Colts and we won as the Ravens. Two separate histories and nothing can be done about that now.

On Saturday the Ravens will go face to face with the ghost of Christmas past. Baltimore must defeat the Colts in its quest for a second Super Bowl. It's more than a football game on Saturday, there's too much bad blood.

Often movie scripts about sports are called "improbable," but the improbable happens quite frequently in sports. It's what excites us, cheers us, drives us crazy. It's a constant roller coaster of emotions - the improbable keeps happening. What's the odds on Tony Romo dropping the snap, a missed field goal, to win the game? Dallas goes home, playoff dreams die. It's a cliche. Improbable.

I've one more improbable script idea. The probable part is that the Ravens beat the Colts and go on to win the Super Bowl again and then next year they open the season in Baltimore. This part is a little more questionable:

We see the camera panning across downtown Baltimore and we hear the TV football announcer say, "Live from downtown Baltimore, from John Unitas Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens ... "

Past and future meet. Harmony at last. Too improbable?

Baltimore native Barry Levinson has produced and directed numerous movies and TV shows. His latest film is "Man of the Year."

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