Success of Ravens and Orioles brings back memories of 1971

In that year, Colts won Super Bowl and O's played in World Series

October 21, 2012|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Forty-one years. Until now, that's how long it had been since Baltimore's baseball and football teams thrilled fans by making their respective playoffs in the same year.

In January, the Ravens played New England for the AFC championship, and lost to the Patriots. Earlier this month, the Orioles advanced to the American League Division Series, bowing to the New York Yankees.

For the first time in decades, Baltimoreans can wear the colors of two teams with equal pride. Orange one day, purple the next. A Ravens jersey with an Orioles cap. It wouldn't make the cover of GQ, but it captures the mood of the city — and harkens back to happy days of yore.

In January, 1971, the Colts won Super Bowl V, defeating the Dallas Cowboys. Nine months later, the Orioles, defending world champions, reached the World Series before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.

There's more. That April, the Baltimore Bullets advanced to the NBA finals for the first time, then fell to the Milwaukee Bucks. And the Baltimore Clippers finished with the best record in the American Hockey League, before losing in the Calder Cup playoffs.

At no other time in the city's sports history did so many clubs peak in unison.

"Every team was riding high. It was a great time to be a professional athlete here," former Colts running back Sam Havrilak said.

Nor was their success a seismic blip. The Colts were dynastic, having won 75 percent of their games during an eight-year span dating back to 1964. The Orioles boasted four 20-game winners (Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson) in 1971, when they won 100 or more games for the third straight year, a feat matched by only two other teams in major league history.

Appreciative fans took note.

"Every restaurant we [players] went to, on an off day or after a ball game, it was tough to buy your own dinner," said Pete Richert, then an Orioles pitcher. "Baltimore isn't a big-money town, but people took care of us."

Their Super Bowl victory, though a comedy of errors, raised the stature of the Colts, already the city's favorite sons.

"Anytime you went downtown, someone would recognize you, even if you were on the kickoff team," defensive tackle Fred Miller said. "People would shake your hand and ask you to sign a cap, shirt or even a napkin."

It was a year of civic pride, celebration and continuity — though the Orioles' prosperity did nag at the Colts, said Bob Vogel, the team's All-Pro tackle.

"When they [the Orioles] made the playoffs, it was a mixed blessing," Vogel said. "For several weeks, we had to practice at McDonogh School, whose facilities were pedestrian, at best."

Also, he said, the Colts' grounds crew couldn't lay turf on the infield at Memorial Stadium until baseball season ended.

"We'd play on Sundays in October and get all that sand, gravel and grit in our pants. But we suffered in silence," Vogel said.

No matter. On Jan. 3, 1971, the Colts (13-2-1) defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27-17 to win the AFC championship. Rowdy fans pelted the Raiders with snowballs from a blizzard that had hit Baltimore two days before.

The Super Bowl victory, in Miami, triggered little fanfare back home. Most of the Colts flew to Bermuda for a week's vacation, courtesy of owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Not that the players were particularly jubilant, having been upset by the New York Jets in the title game two years earlier.

"I'd bought a new suit to wear after the game, if we won," second-year receiver Eddie Hinton said. "So, afterward, I was sitting in the locker room, in my underwear, wondering what to do because the players were brooding.

"'Did we just win the Super Bowl?' I asked. 'Yeah, kid,' a veteran said. "The game we should have won two years ago.' "

Nonetheless, 2,000 shivering fans stood in 19-degree cold at wind-whipped Friendship Airport to greeted the handful of Colts who returned to Baltimore on their Eastern Airlines charter after the game. Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro was there, as was comptroller Hyman Pressman, who recited this verse:

"You'll have to forgive us for bubbling over,

We're floating on air, and soaring in clover,

We're charged with a hundred-million volts,

From two world champions — Orioles and Colts!"

Despite their success, players on one team seldom hobnobbed with those on the others.

"We'd have a few beers with the hockey players and go see them play," said Miller. "Never understood the game, though.

"But when you're young and raising a family, there's little time for much else. Plus, we all had off-season jobs," said Miller, who worked for a local forklift company. "At the workplace, we were just regular Joes, no different from the guys who sold cars or worked at Bethlehem Steel. We just happened to play football for part of the year. And the fans appreciated that."

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