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What If Carroll Rosenbloom Had Kept the Colts?

The Colts have been a part of some of the biggest trades in NFL history including a 15 player trade in 1954, and the Eric Dickerson deal. However, the biggest of trades happened in 1972 when owner Carroll Rosenbloom traded franchises with Robert Irsay. But what if that didn't happen?

Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is coming up quick, and that always brings with it stories of what teams should have done in hindsight. All of that is great fodder for my "What If" articles. And believe me, I have a few good ideas (ok...two) that I'll be writing about in a couple of weeks.

This week, though, I want to focus on a trade of epic proportions that affected the Colts franchise and the NFL as a whole. And no, this isn't about the Eric Dickerson trade. Nor is it about the John Elway trade.

No, this is about the Carroll Rosenbloom trade.

What if Rosenbloom hadn't traded the franchise to Robert Irsay?

First, some background on Rosenbloom. In 1953, he and some investors purchased the Dallas Texans while they were being relocated to Baltimore. The deal cost Rosenbloom $13,000. He promised Baltimore fans they would have a champion in five years.

The first order of business was for Rosenbloom to hire Weeb Ewbank as head coach in 1954. The second was to orchestrate a 15 player deal with the Browns that saw the Colts receive 10 players, including Don Shula.

In 1956, Rosenbloom orchestrated the signing of former Steelers' draft pick: John Unitas. Only two years later, the Colts were world champions.

Another title, and a Super Bowl victory would follow for Baltimore.

However, Rosenbloom began to clash, slightly, with city officials mainly about Memorial Stadium. This turned Rosenbloom's attention to other locations away from Baltimore.

Things worked out well for Rosenbloom he struck a deal with Irsay to swap franchises. Rosenbloom would become owner of the LA Rams and Irsay the owner of the Colts. This would drastically change the future of the two franchises.

The Rams, under the ownership of Rosenbloom, would win seven straight conference titles and reach the NFC title game four times. The Colts wouldn't win a playoff game until 1995.

But what if the trade didn't happen?

The short term answer is likely that the cleaning house under Irsay and General Manager Joe Thomas doesn't happen. Rosenbloom finished his career as owner with a .660 win percentage, so it's likely that the Colts continue to succeed in the AFC.

But let's step away from the field and focus on where the Colts would be playing had Rosenbloom kept the team.

Yes, it appears that Rosenbloom was dissatisfied with the city, but all historical information indicates that Rosenbloom loved the Colts in Baltimore. Because of this, I would find it extremely unlikely that he would pick up and move the Colts.

However, when Rosenbloom died in 1979, his wife Georgia Fontiere would then have become majority owner, as she did with the Rams. And of course, that's where this gets interesting.

Unless something crazy happened, it is unlikely that the Colts would have had sustained success with Fontiere as the owner. She was rather hands-off with the Rams, and the franchise slowly declined through the 1980s.

Say the team, and therefore attendance, did decline in Baltimore as well. The existing tension (as small as it may have been) would have still existed between the Colts and the city of Baltimore. It is also unlikely that the city would have been willing to build a new stadium for a losing team (something Irsay requested in Baltimore, and Fontiere did in LA).

Of course, had Rosenbloom been owner until 1979, the decline for the Colts would, presumably, not have been in full swing by 1983. Let's say this problem hits in 1989, 10 years after Rosenbloom dies.

Fontiere certainly would have begun the process of looking to relocate the Colts. So what would the landscape look like in the NFL for team relocation in this scenario?

Let's start this trip in LA with Irsay. Given the track record he had with the Colts, I doubt Irsay turns the Rams into winners the way Rosenbloom did. This would have led to low attendance and poor play for the Rams. Additionally, Al Davis would almost certainly have tried to force his way into LA even with Irsay and the Rams there.

This could prompt a relocation of Irsay's Rams in the mid 1980s. Open cites for teams at this time would have been Phoenix, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Carolina. On first glance, the same top two destinations would pop up for Irsay as they did in real life: Phoenix and Indianapolis.

I'll say that Irsay doesn't move the Rams across the country, and instead relocates the team to Phoenix, creating the Arizona Rams.

That sounds gross.

That, of course, creates a problem in 1987, when the St. Louis (football) Cardinals decide to move, which they still would. Of course, in 1987 there would be a three-year-old mostly unused stadium about 10 hours away in Indianapolis. It's almost a no-brainer.

The Indianapolis Cardinals. Yuck.

And finally that brings us back to Fontiere and the Colts. With an opening in St. Louis, and the pending opening of the Edward Jones Dome, Fontiere again makes the move back to her hometown of St. Louis and the St. Louis Colts are born.

This all just sounds horrible.

The only good thing that comes out of this (kind of)? I'm going to say that the Raiders remain in Los Angeles. So there's that at least.

This is much speculation, and probably not all (or any) of this would have actually happened. However, with all of the NFL relocation in the 1980s and early 90s, it is likely that, regardless of ownership, the Colts do move from Baltimore. It just isn't as for sure that they would reside in Indianapolis.

I like the way things turned out in the real world.