Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Baltimore -- er, um...the Indianapolis Colts serve notice, with a strong opening drive, that the Colts-Ravens match-up will be a closely-fought struggle. The Colts are a much better team than they showed over the last 4-6 weeks on the regular season. They've gotten healthy, just in time for the playoffs. They will give the Ravens a real fight, though I expect the Ravens to hold on. This will be a great game, but that's not why I'm writing.

It's a playoff game in Baltimore, and the Colts are the visiting team. That is just SO WRONG!! I don't go way back -- not to the glory days of Ameche and Unitas, but I am old enough to vaguely remember Unitas. I go back to the mid-70s, when Bert Jones (the Ruston Rifle) lit up the crowds in Memorial Stadium, along with super-fan Wild Bill Hagy. The Colts had some of the best fans in the league...and they had history. A storied franchise, up there with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. Even the Washington Redskins couldn't claim the proud tradition of the Colts. Time marches on, I know, but today is a today to remember, with great regret, one of the great injustices in sports history: the day Bob Irsay loaded up the Colts into the Mayflower vans, in the dead of night, and moved the team to Indianapolis.

Irsay's ownership was famously disastrous. He was probably the single biggest factor in John Elway's telling the Colts he would not play for them, after they drafted him with the first pick in the 1983 draft -- not long before they moved. That was a bad year for Colts fans. I'd already moved on -- Bert Jones' career was wrecked by a series of injuries, and he'd moved on to the Los Angeles Rams. The once proud franchise had become one of the worst teams ever. Baltimoreans were happy to be rid of Irsay -- trading him for Art Modell was a big move up, but the Ravens will never be the Colts. They will never work into the heart of the city the way the Colts did, as forever enshrined, hilariously, in Barry Levinson's best movie, "Diner." The Colts were Baltimore. The Ravens just play there.

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