I was reminded this morning that this is the 25th anniversary of me becoming a Colt's fan. On this day two and a half decades ago the Colts left Baltimore under the cover of darkness and moved to my hometown, Indianapolis. The move enhanced the transformation of one city and devastated another.
All these years later, thousands of people in Baltimore are still not over the loss of their original NFL team. In Indianapolis, where I grew up, the city continues to enjoy the downtown renaissance, civic pride and nationwide respect that the Colts helped to inspire.
These days I live 45 miles from downtown Baltimore. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how strongly the people in Baltimore feel about their teams and their heroes, particularly the Colts. As an Indianapolis native, who grew up without the NFL, I was happy when my hometown moved closer to big time respectability when it “acquired” the Colts in 1984. I feel for Baltimore, but I’m happy for Indianapolis. Although, as much as I like Baltimore, when I’m there, I rarely tell anyone that I’m from Indianapolis.
For more than a decade the Indianapolis Colts have been one of the NFL’s marquee franchises. They just moved into their second downtown facility, a retractable roof marvel known as Lucas Oil Stadium. The new stadium is being used not just for Colts football, but also for NCAA tournament basketball. This weekend it hosted a Sweet 16/Elite Eight regional and the Final Four will be played there next year. Three years from now Lucas Oil will play host to the Super Bowl. This is today’s Indianapolis, spurred on by the Colts.
In Baltimore, it took 12 years before the NFL returned. In 1996 the original Cleveland Browns, became the new Baltimore Ravens. Ironically, Baltimore “acquired” the Browns/Ravens with a better offer than the city of Cleveland made. Just the way Indianapolis made a better deal for the Colts than did the city of Baltimore. But this time Baltimore stepped up. The facility they built for the Ravens, M &T Bank Stadium, is another ornament in an exciting downtown, one that was forced to remake itself after the Colts moved away. But this remains a bitter sweet tale. Even though the Ravens would win a Super Bowl just five years after moving to Baltimore, they remain the city’s second favorite football team. The number one team remains, the Baltimore Colts.
Colts fans, from Baltimore, fell in love with the legendary No. 19, Johnny Unitas, years ago and a team that proudly symbolized their working class city. They feel their team was stolen by another city. Their pain has lasted a quarter century.
Six hundred miles away and many years later, another great quarterback, No. 18 Peyton Manning, is creating his own legend in a uniform that looks just like the one Johnny Unitas wore. But Manning, the NFL’s highest paid commercial endorser, symbolizes the changes that time often brings about. Manning embodies the new Indianapolis and the new NFL.
Where sports are concerned a connection can be made that lasts a lifetime. That’s the way it was with the Baltimore Colts, that’s the way it is with the Indianapolis Colts—a tale of two cities and one team.