Sports Outside the Beltway

Maybe not such a villain

Rightly or not, Ravens fans anxiously await the results of Saturday’s playoff game against Indianapolis. A win against the team that abandoned Baltimore would be great for Ravens fans. Right now an indicator of this civic feeling is that “Beat Indy” merchandise is selling quite well.

One shop is serving up “Beat Indy” t-shirts and other Ravens merchandise hot off the presses. The t-shirts pay homage to Baltimore Colts great Johnny Unitas, yet also have that “can’t get over it; need some therapy” feel about them. It’s part of the bitter feelings some fans still harbor when the Colts left Baltimore in 1984.

(These “Beat Indy” shirts are almost certainly NOT official NFL merchandise. Though there’s a quarterback wearing number 19 and the purple color, there doesn’t appear to be any official name in the design.)
Earlier I discovered that someone had come to my blog searching on “colts left baltimore.” Another item that search returned was an obituary of Bob Irsay, the man villified in Baltimore for moving the team away in the dark of night.
How Irsay acquired the Colts was interesting. He owned the Los Angeles Rams and traded the Rams for the Colts with Carroll Rosenblum.
While the obituary doesn’t gloss over Irsay’s faults …

A December 1986 Sports Illustrated article was especially critical of Irsay’s stewardship of the team that won three NFL championships and never had a losing season in the 15 years before he took over. Its regular-season record in Indianapolis: 85 wins and 122 losses. Five winning seasons in 13 years.

But the article had this interesting tidbit.

Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis one day after the Maryland Legislature passed a law allowing the city of Baltimore to take over the franchise by eminent domain.

Fifteen Mayflower vans loaded with all of the team’s possessions began moving out of the Colts’ office and training facility in Owings Mills, Md., shortly after midnight because it was feared the franchise would be seized after daybreak. “They not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, `Want to see if it’s loaded?’ ” Michael Chernoff, the team’s general counsel, said after the move. “They forced him to make a decision that day.”

Irsay was bedeviled by the same problems that bugged Art Modell. He wanted the city to kick in improvements. The city was slow to comply and took the owner for granted. So the owner moved.

Maybe Irsay would have moved anyway, but clearly the action of the Maryland General Assembly didn’t help matters and perhaps even accelerated the team’s departure. (So yes, Maryland’s new senator – then speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates – shares some of the blame for the Colts’ departure.)

By the times the Colts left, I really wasn’t a fan. As the obituary noted, Irsay was a disaster as an owner and the team hadn’t been good in years. For that he deserves plenty of blame. But for moving? It’s hard to see that he was the major villain in the affair.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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