After the pain, closure

Colts Leave Baltimore


March 29, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,

Twenty-five years have passed since that night. If time doesn't heal all wounds, it certainly dulls the ache.

I no longer have instant recall of the events of March 28 and 29, 1984, but I don't have any trouble bringing them back, either.

I was beat writer on the Colts for The Evening Sun then. From the moment the 1983 season ended, I had worked on nothing else but the travel itinerary of Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay. I called the power brokers in Indianapolis and Phoenix daily trying to learn anything about the not-so-secret negotiations.

I called airports trying to track Irsay's private plane, a white Jetstar with blue stripes and registration number of N60BC. I spoke with politicians, bankers and other media members on the same mission. It was a thankless, 24/7 job.

On March 2, I was in Chicago when Irsay addressed NFL owners in a meeting he requested. It was there that the league, already embroiled in a lawsuit over the relocation of the Oakland Raiders, told Irsay it would not stop him from moving the Colts.

On March 19, I was in Hawaii for the NFL's annual owners meetings, on the assumption this was where Irsay would inform owners of his plans. Not only didn't Irsay reveal his hand, but he also didn't show up, sending son Jim instead.

No decision, no silver lining. In Hawaii for almost a week, I didn't even see a beach until the day I was to fly out.

By the end of the month, Irsay's erratic behavior and odd demands cast a pall over any hopes the Colts would remain. On March 28, a Wednesday, I was in the office away from my desk when I answered a call sometime after 7 p.m.

A man told me he saw Mayflower vans traveling toward the team's Owings Mills complex. The next thing I did will live with me forever.

I called the Owings Mills office of coach Frank Kush. On, I think, the second ring, Kush answered.

"Frank, what are you doing in the office this late?" I asked.

"Watching film," came the awkward reply.

Kush rarely stayed late at the office during the season, so it seemed extremely odd he would be there this late on a night in March. I nearly fell off my chair. My heart started racing.

With just a little prodding, Kush admitted the team was moving out that night. He had started the day at his home in Tempe, Ariz., doing some gardening. He ended it cleaning out his desk.

(Kush would make the move to Indianapolis. Fifteen games - and four wins - into the 1984 season, Kush was fired. He did not coach again.)

My next move was to alert our team of reporters and editors, then head out to Owings Mills. It was dark and snowing by the time I got there. I was the first media person to arrive, joined by a handful of curiosity seekers and fans. I didn't stay long.

Security guards permitted only team members to enter the complex. Somehow Vince Bagli, a respected Baltimore broadcaster, finagled his way into the building, a fact that always tickled me.

From the distance, I looked at the long line of yellow and green Mayflower trucks. Each had a special cargo. The first was to take all the important paperwork and contracts that belonged to the team. Once that truck left Maryland, the Colts were gone and not coming back.

I stood and watched for 20 minutes. By then, I was numb - not from cold, but from the sense of history unfolding before me. I knew this day had been coming for months. When it finally arrived, it was still a blast of bitter air. I went on autopilot the rest of the evening.

I wound up flying to Indianapolis the next morning, where the 63,000-seat Hoosier Dome awaited the city's new NFL team. There, I received a job offer from Wayne Fuson, sports editor of the Indianapolis News, which I promptly declined.

Since then, I have tried to move on from that place in time, that historic moment, and let go of any bitterness I held. As fate would have it, I was back in Indianapolis for last month's NFL scouting combine.

On the first day walking to the Colts' new Lucas Oil Stadium, I passed where the Hoosier Dome had been. It was rubble now, chunks of concrete and steel and twisted wires. Demolition was virtually complete.

As I walked past, I thought of March 28, 1984, and what that night had brought for Baltimore and Indianapolis. Twenty-five years later, both cities have moved on. Since then, both have NFL teams, beautiful stadiums and one Super Bowl trophy apiece.

I thought that was good. And with the Hoosier Dome gone, I thought that was closure.

about the author

Baltimore Sun sports reporter Ken Murray had two stints as Colts beat writer, with The News American in 1981 and The Evening Sun in 1983. He also covered the Baltimore CFL team in 1994 and the Ravens in 2000, and has predominantly covered the NFL during his 25 years at The Sun.

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