Doubled up

Orioles, Colts transformed Baltimore into Flagtown, USA, back in 1970

November 03, 2007|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

The baseball team coasts to a World Series victory. The football team seems a lock for the Super Bowl midway through the season.

Boston in 2007? Yes, but also Baltimore in 1970.

The difference: In the days before the media explosion, the hype for the Orioles and Colts didn't go much further than a few billboards and bumper stickers.

"I didn't hear many people bragging about it," Brooks Robinson said of the city's back-to-back world championships 37 years ago.

How times change, said Robinson, the Orioles' Hall of Fame third baseman:

"To hear what's going on now [in Boston], it's like a phenomenon."

Last week, the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies in four games. Now, the undefeated New England Patriots are at the forefront, seeking their ninth victory at Indianapolis (7-0) tomorrow.

Should the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it would mark the fourth time that a city's NFL team has followed its baseball counterpart with a world title since Baltimore turned the trick in 1970.

The Orioles (108-54) won their division by 15 games, then took four of five from the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Three months later, the Colts answered by defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

On their heels came the Bullets, the city's basketball entry, who reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"That was a magical year, though people didn't realize it," said Sam Havrilak, then a Colts running back. "It wasn't such a big deal until [years later] when the media built it up."

In 1970 Baltimore, the stars were all aligned. The Orioles had Jim Palmer, Boog Powell and Robinson; the Colts had John Unitas, John Mackey and Ted Hendricks. Even the Bullets seemed destined for success behind Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson.

The Orioles struck first, breezing through the World Series as Robinson's fielding captivated America.

"I still remember some of those plays Brooks made," said Unseld, the Bullets center. "I couldn't wait to see him make another."

Yet the Orioles struggled at the turnstiles. Crowds averaged 13,000 during the season, and even the final game of the Series at Memorial Stadium fell far short of a sellout.

Players still are irked by that.

"We were a damn good team, and we knew it," said Powell, the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1970. "We were disappointed that there weren't more people in the ballpark.

"When we got so far in front during the season, people said, `We know you're not going to lose [the pennant], so we'll save our money for the World Series.'

"But, deep down, you knew Baltimore at that time was just not a baseball town."

Horseshoes owned its heart.

"I loved the Colts," said Dave Leonhard, an Orioles pitcher raised in Essex.

During the 1969 World Series, Leonhard had summed up the city's tryst with football. Toweling off in the clubhouse after a Sunday loss to the New York Mets, Leonhard asked a reporter, "How did the Colts do?"

Baltimore was very much a one-horse town.

When the Orioles won the 1970 Series quickly, the Colts were ecstatic. With no practice facility of their own, the Colts had been working out at McDonogh School until the baseball team cleared out of Memorial Stadium.

"McDonogh had a locker room with about five shower heads," said Tom Matte, the Colts halfback. "It's amazing that we survived.

"We couldn't wait till the Orioles got the hell out."

The Colts moved in. The victories rolled on. Success seemed contagious.

"I remember sitting with a bunch of players after practice saying, `We gotta keep this string going,'" Matte said.

Back then, players from one team rooted on the others, Powell said.

"I'd walk the five blocks from my house on Medford Road to the stadium to watch the Colts because there was no place to park along the way," he said.

Bobby Grich, a rookie second baseman, somehow garnered a seat on the Colts' bench for one game. Palmer had to buy himself a ticket.

"I remember paying $5.75 for a seat on the 50-yard line," Palmer said.

"It was the best of all worlds. Those were players that the fans could relate to. Brooks had his own restaurant [the Gorsuch House], and Johnny [Unitas] did too [The Golden Arm].

"Winning championships was good for everyone's self-image," Palmer said. "But seeing the players around town who won them made people feel good about themselves, too."

The Colts didn't disappoint, going 11-2-1 in the regular season, then winning three playoff games, including a 16-13 victory over the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. No matter that the game was rife with errors. Baltimore had swept the table.

There was no parade for the champs.

"We didn't even come back to Baltimore after the game [in Miami]," Colts safety Rick Volk said. Owner Carroll Rosenbloom took the club to the Bahamas for a week.

"By the time we got home, all of the excitement was gone," Volk said.

There were vestiges of the city's success, such as the bumper stickers trumpeting "Flagtown, USA."

"I remember seeing billboards around town that called us `Championship City,'" Orioles manager Earl Weaver said.

In April 1971 - three months after the Super Bowl - the Bullets made it to the NBA championship series, only to be crushed by the Bucks.

Nuts, said Havrilak.

"We almost had a trifecta."

Twice as nice

Cities whose teams have won the World Series, followed by the Super Bowl (or NFL title game):

Year Teams

1927 N.Y. Yankees, Giants

1935 Detroit Tigers, Lions

1938 Yankees, Giants

1956 Yankees, Giants

1970 Orioles, Colts

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers

1986 New York Mets, Giants

2004 Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots

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