On Sunday the Indianapolis Colts will take on the Baltimore Ravens. We all know this. Of course, this means that you can all probably guess the focus of this week’s Throwback Thursday. It’s the obvious choice, I know, but how could I not?
March 29, 1984. That’s a date you could throw around to many people and probably not receive a good answer as to why it is important. Throw that date around to a resident of Indianapolis, and especially one of Baltimore, and you will get an earful. Yes, that is the day the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis.
Problems for the Colts and Baltimore actually began in 1969, when both the Colts and Baltimore Orioles complained about Memorial Stadium being inadequate. Despite pushes from both teams, and some money put forth by Colts’ owner Carl Rosenbloom, nothing would be done about the stadium.
Rosenbloom announced that the team would not be returning to Memorial Stadium in 1972.
However, in 1971, something interesting happened. Rosenbloom reached an agreement with Will Keland (not the name you were expecting?) to buy the Baltimore Colts. As it turned out, though, Keland did not have the money, which meant that his friend (who did have the money) could jump in and get the team.
That man, of course, was Robert Irsay. Irsay purchased the Los Angeles Rams, and traded the ownership of the team (plus $3 million) to Rosenbloom, for the Colts.
A new owner didn’t help the fact that Memorial Stadium was in decline, though. Planners in Maryland, though, came up with a brilliant (yet nowadays unknown idea) to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Baltimore named the Baltodome. The dome would have housed the Colts, Orioles, and any hockey and basketball games that would be played there.
Obviously, the Baltodome never happened. It didn’t receive government support, and quickly fell through.
In the late 70s the Colts still had a successful football team, led by Bert Jones. Despite this, progress wasn’t being made on the stadium. Irsay began to shop the team to Phoenix, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and LA (to name a few). It is worth noting, right now, that the Orioles were sold around this time as well, and new owner Edward Bennett Williams, refused to sign a long-term lease for the stadium, as did Irsay.
Skip ahead to 1982, and Indianapolis began building the Hoosier Dome in an effort to lure an NFL team to the city.
In 1983, the Maryland legislature did approve a $15 million renovation project for Memorial Stadium. The problem, though, was that the Colts’ lease had run out by this point, making them a "free-agent," if you will.
Also in early 1983, Irsay was granted permission by the NFL to relocate the Colts.
In January of 1984, things began to really heat up. Irsay met with a group from Phoenix (the Arizona Colts?) about moving the Colts there. They offered Irsay use of Sun Devil Stadium, for free rent, to lure the team in.
Indianapolis, in the meantime was pushing for an expansion team, but that was shot down by Commissioner Pete Rozelle. It is interesting to note, that a developer for Indianapolis, Robert Welch, briefly pursued purchasing, and moving, the New Orleans Saints. How weird would that have been?
Fans in Indianapolis can also give a hearty thank-you to Pacers owner Herb Simon, who reached out to Irsay in January of 1984, in an effort to heat up talks with the city.
Skip ahead to March 27, 1984. The Maryland legislature brought a bill to the floor stating that the state of Maryland could seize the Colts via eminent domain. This was the lynch-pin which triggered a series of events.
The group from Phoenix quickly withdrew their offer, leaving Indianapolis as Irsay’s only viable landing spot.
The next day (March 28) Irsay made a call to Indianapolis, which in turn made him an offer to bring the Colts to Indy and use the Hoosier Dome. As we all know, Irsay accepted.
William Hudnut, the mayor of Indianapolis, contacted a friend of his, John Smith, to assist the Colts with the move. Of course, Smith was CEO of Mayflower Transit. Within eight hours of arriving in Baltimore, the morning of March 29, the Colts were packed up and leaving town.
It’s common to hear that the Colts left (and I hate this term) "Under cover of night" and snuck out of Baltimore. While true, this was done so the team could move before the Maryland Legislature could pass the eminent domain bill (which they did later in the morning).
My favorite part of the story comes in here. Mayflower sent 15 trucks to Baltimore to help the team move. All 15 trucks took a different route back to Indianapolis, just in case the state tried to seize the team. Once arriving in Indiana, all trucks were given a police escort to the city.
Despite lots of legal activity, the move would stand. The rest is history (at least for the Colts). Baltimore would go without a team until the 1996 season. It was then that Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns franchise to Baltimore, for the exact same reason Irsay left Baltimore.
Obviously, a lot more happened during the time leading up to the move, and after the move. I just don't have the space to cover it all (and I don't know if y'all want to read all of that).
Today Baltimore fans are still bitter toward the Colts, and Cleveland fans are still bitter toward the Ravens. But really, it’s about time to let this all go. The Ravens have two Super Bowls, the Colts have one, and the Browns have…a factory of sadness?
On Sunday you will probably all hear an abridged version of this story multiple times. I guarantee you’ll see the video of the Mayflower trucks leaving Baltimore many times.