What Would Have Happened If the Colts Never Moved to Indianapolis?

Tyler Ward@twardyyyAnalyst IJune 13, 2012

In the wee hours of March 29, 1984, then-owner Robert Irsay decided to move the Colts franchise in the snowy and frosty night. Irsay concluded that he did not want to be held "hostage" by the city any longer. Instead of staying another dreadful year in the unappreciative city of Baltimore, Irsay determined that Indianapolis was a much more desired city for his football team.

That's when the remarkably noticeable Mayflower truck packed the rest of the franchise's things and with the snap of a finger, there was no football in Baltimore for the first time in over three decades.

When that Mayflower truck pulled out of the parking lot, the memories of Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore and others were gone as well. The memories of the famed 1958 championship game that pitted the Colts against the Giants were gone too. That famed game that took place at Yankee Stadium has ultimately been considered to be one of the best football games of all-time. With an Alan Ameche touchdown in the waning moments, the Colts won the game 23-17, and they would also repeat as champions the following season.

However, there are a lot of fans that recognize the Colts as the losing team in Super Bowl III, in which New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed a victory over the Colts. The Jets were enormous underdogs entering the game, but they managed to win 16-7, in what is considered to be one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Nevertheless, many people fail to realize that even though the Colts lost that game all those years ago, it was still a phenomenal team that just happened to be outplayed that day.

Jim O'Brien kicks the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl V
Jim O'Brien kicks the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl V
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The Colts would get the last laugh however, as they were able to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13 in Super Bowl V because of a Jim O'Brien field goal. That would become the first Super Bowl victory for the city of Baltimore. The Jets have not won a Super Bowl since their triumph over the Colts in Super Bowl III.

During the Colts' time in Baltimore, they had a phenomenal history. Many future Hall-of-Famers donned a blue-and-white uniform, including Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Ted Hendricks, Jim Parker and legendary coaches Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula.

There were many other players that did great things for the franchise, but will likely never have a bust in Canton, such as Tom Matte, Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, Earl Morrall, Mike Curtis, Roger Carr, Bubba Smith, Bert Jones, Alan Ameche and many others.

Despite a storied history, the last few seasons is probably what ultimately decided the fate of the franchise.

After a mediocre three-season stretch from 1972 to 1974, the Colts turned things around in 1975. They won the division title with a 10-4 record under a new head coach, Tim Marchibroda. Quarterback Bert Jones would go on to have a dominant campaign, as he threw for 18 touchdowns. However, in 1976, Jones got even better, as he threw for a career-high 24 touchdowns. He also achieved a passer rating of over 100, successfully becoming one of the only three quarterbacks in the 1970s to obtain that goal. Jones joined the very short list of Roger Staubach in 1971 and Ken Stabler in 1976 to achieve that mark and was named the NFL's MVP that season, along with the Offensive Player of the Year Award.

The Colts would win the division title in 1976 and 1977, but it was back to mediocrity in 1978. From that season to the night they moved, the Colts never won more than seven games in a season. Included in this stretch was an embarrassing 2-14 season in 1981 and an awful 0-8-1 campaign in the strike-shortened 1982 season. They also had four different starting quarterbacks in five seasons with Bill Troup, Greg Landry, Bert Jones and Mike Pagel.

Bert Jones was the 1976 NFL MVP
Bert Jones was the 1976 NFL MVP

After their miserable 1982 campaign, the Colts held the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 draft. They would go on to select highly-decorated Stanford quarterback John Elway, but he told the franchise that he would rather play baseball than play for their down-trodden team. Elway wanted a trade and he eventually got it, as he was dealt to Denver. The rest, they say, is history.

Elway's refusal to play for the Colts could have likely been the straw that broke the camel's back, at least for Robert Irsay. Elway was weary of playing for the Colts, who were the laughingstock of the NFL. The quarterback's blatent excuse that he didn't want to play for the franchise or head coach Frank Kush was unforgiveable from the view of Irsay.

The Colts would play the 1983 season in Baltimore, but that would be the last time the Colts would ever be considered Baltimore's team.

With the Colts' sudden conjecture to move to Indianapolis, let's stop and think what would have happened if Robert Irsay didn't get fed up with the city. What would have happened for the franchise and the city of Baltimore? Hopefully, those answers will be answered relatively soon.

The Ravens would have never existed

As we all know, from 1984 to 1996, Baltimore did not have a professional football franchise. In 1995, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell decided to move his Browns franchise to Baltimore, where they would be renamed, the "Ravens".

The Ravens' inaugural season was in 1996
The Ravens' inaugural season was in 1996Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The controversy that followed would abruptly end when the NFL and the city of Cleveland reached an agreement on Feb. 8, 1996. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue then promised the city that they would receive another NFL team, either through expansion or relocation. Tagliabue even set a date for a possible team and that it would be "no later than 1999".

Once the team was officially moved to Baltimore, the team immediately got off to a tremendous start, at least in the offseason. With two first-round selections in their grasp, they were able to take offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis with those two picks. Ogden would go on to be the anchor of the Ravens' offensive line for many years in what is viewed as a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Lewis, on the other hand, is still suiting up for the Ravens every Sunday and is considered to be one of the most feared and dominant linebackers in NFL history. Once Lewis decides to call it quits, there will be a spot in Canton waiting for him.

Since the Ravens' inception in 1996, there have been many great players that have donned a Ravens uniform. The 2012 season will be the Ravens' 17th year in the NFL and thus far, we have seen players such as the aforementioned Ogden and Lewis, along with Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, Steve McNair, Shannon Sharpe, Jamal Lewis, Rod Woodson, Vinny Testaverde and others spend time in the city of Baltimore. However, these players likely would have never played a down in purple-and-black if the Colts hadn't moved.

If Irsay had decided to keep the Colts in Baltimore, there would have been no way that the NFL would have given the city a second team. When Art Modell announced that he would be moving the team, that team would have likely ended up in a larger market like Los Angeles, even though they would have been without an NFL team for just two years at this point in time. There's always the distinct possibility that Modell could have moved the Browns to Indianapolis, the city that the Colts moved to twelve years prior. After all, Indianapolis had been pushing for an NFL team for many years and they would have likely gotten one.

Los Angeles hasn't had an NFL team since 1994
Los Angeles hasn't had an NFL team since 1994

Additionally, you could have also never ruled out a city like Memphis, who had tried for many years to get a professional football franchise. The "City of Blues" did have a USFL team named the Memphis Showboats in 1984 and 1985, but that league would fold at the conclusion of the 1987 season. To this day, Memphis still remains without a football team.

There were also other possibilities, such as Las Vegas, Portland, Milwaukee, Lincoln (Nebraska), Oklahoma City, San Jose, Orlando, Louisville, Des Moines and Salt Lake City, all of which have never had an actual NFL franchise. There's no doubt that some of those cities may be far-fetched and befuddling, but there's a great chance that a lot of people would have attended their games. After all, those cities have a substantial population. Also, Kansas City has had a franchise for many years and there are over 160 cities in America that have a higher population.

Regardless, there would not have been another team in Baltimore. As of right now, there would just have been the Colts. With the Ravens never coming into fruition, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice and other members of the 2012 Ravens squad would likely not be playing in Baltimore. For all we know, Ray Lewis could have been a Packer, Ed Reed a Dolphin and Ray Rice a Packer. You just never know what could have happened. But, I can take a page out of Joe Namath's book and guarantee that the Ravens would have never materialized if the Colts remained in Maryland.

Indianapolis could have never gotten an NFL team

If then-owner Robert Irsay decided to keep the team in Baltimore and endure criticism, paltry attendance ands laughs from the rest of the league, there may not have ever been a team in Indianapolis. The NFL expanded in 1995 with the additions of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers, and aggrandized even more in 2002 with the accession of the Houston Texans. There's a legitimate possibility that the NFL would have stuck with those plans and they would have never allowed Indianapolis to have a professional football team, leaving the state with just the NBA's Pacers.

Lewis & Reed would have never donned Ravens uniforms
Lewis & Reed would have never donned Ravens uniforms

If that were the case, that would have left a gaping hole in Indiana. However, Irsay was able  to move the team to Indianapolis, but the output wasn't much better.

The Colts suffered many difficult years of mediocrity in their first 14 years in Indianapolis. During that span, the Colts were exceedingly pedestrian, as they accumulated a record of 88-125. This included zero ten-win seasons, one division crown in 1987, three second-place division finishes, three playoff appearances, five seasons of four or less wins, seven different head coaches and a horrendous 1-15 campaign in 1991.

But then came 1998, when the Colts franchise was finally rejuvenated. The Colts finished with the league's worst record in 1997, meaning they would hold the first overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. With Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning battling it out for the No. 1 pick, the Colts chose the latter. Clearly, they made the right choice in choosing the second-generation, highly touted quarterback from Tennessee.

Soon, things turned around significantly. In just his second professional season, Manning lead the Colts to a 13-3 record, the first time they had surpassed the ten-win mark since their move to Indianapolis. Starting with that season, Manning led the Colts to the playoffs in twelve of the next thirteen seasons, which includes a streak of nine straight playoff appearances from 2002 to 2010. That streak ties the NFL record.

During his tenure in Indianapolis, Manning collected four MVP trophies, while evolving into one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Additionally, Manning lit up defenses as he currently ranks third all-time in passing yards and passing touchdowns. The quarterback also threw for over 4,000 yards in eleven seasons, another NFL record.

However, prior to the 2011 season, it was announced that Manning would have to undergo neck surgery, and would miss the entire season. Following the conclusion of the season, the Colts decided to sever ties with Manning, who had led the team to two Super Bowl appearances, including the city's first victory in 2006 over the Chicago Bears. After his release, teams clamored for his services and he eventually packed his bags for Denver.

Without Manning in 2011, the Colts were awful and finished the season with a record of 2-14. Manning's absence was abundantly clear, as Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky couldn't get the job done. The Colts owned the worst record and held the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since 1998. They made the decision to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who has often been compared to Manning. With a new era ushered in for the Colts, they are now in a big rebuilding process. 

During Manning's tenure, the team had many great players on their roster, including Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Tarik Glenn, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and many others. However, none of this would have ever happened if Irsay didn't move the team.

Not to mention, the Colts have made the city of Indianapolis millions of dollars in revenue since their move in 1984. With the money they have made off the Colts franchise, the city has been able to do a lot of great things for its residents and the city in general. Indianapolis wouldn't be the city it is today if those thoughts didn't transpire in Irsay's head all those years ago.

Andrew Luck: The New Face of the Franchise
Andrew Luck: The New Face of the Franchise

There might have never been a franchise in Carolina or Jacksonville

As I stated earlier, the NFL expanded in 1995 with the additions of the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although, when you think about it, there might have never been a team in one of those cities if the Colts hadn't moved during that fateful, eerie night.

There's no doubt that Indianapolis was pushing hard for an NFL franchise. But the NFL never granted them one.

In early 1984, the Colts' lease on Baltimore's Memorial Stadium had expired. Irsay wanted the city of Baltimore to build another stadium because their current one was beat up, broken down and decrepit. It didn't seem too much to ask at the time, but city officials were very reluctant to build a new one since there was already one in place that they felt was good enough.

At that point, the Colts' attendance was steadily dropping because of the team's lackluster performance over the last few seasons. Because of this, the city was prudent in spending money on a franchise that fans didn't seem to care about. Negotiations for a new complex were slow and seemingly went on forever. This caused a big problem between the city and Irsay, as he felt that even though the team was playing abominable, it was still Baltimore's team and they should want to keep their only football team in the city.

It became known that Irsay began shopping the team around to different cities, mainly Indianapolis and Phoenix. Both cities desperately wanted a franchise and Irsay was willing to move because they were willing to do something that Baltimore wasn't, and that was to give them a welcome home and a nice stadium.

The Colts' old home: The Memorial Stadium
The Colts' old home: The Memorial Stadium

In 1984, the city of Indianapolis was working on building a new stadium, specifically for an NFL expansion team. With a new stadium already in place that would be ready for the upcoming 1984 season, Irsay felt that Indianapolis was the new home of the Colts. And it was, as the Hoosier Dome officially opened on Aug. 5, 1984.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, things got worse. The city of Maryland was willing to pass a bill that would give them the right to seize ownership of the team. Because of this, Irsay immediately contacted Indianapolis' mayor, William Hudnut, and began serious negotiations that would have the Colts move to Indianapolis before Maryland could pass the bill. Irsay and Hudnut were able to come to an agreement that the city of Indianapolis would give Irsay a $12.5 million loan, a $4 million training complex and the use of the new Hoosier Dome. After the deal was struck, Irsay sent Mayflower trucks to the Colts' stadium at 2:00 a.m. and by 10:00 a.m., the entire franchise was gone from Baltimore.

But, that leaves the question: What would have happened if the city of Baltimore agreed to build the team a new stadium?

If they had agreed, there's a very good chance that Irsay would have kept the Colts in Baltimore. All he wanted was a new stadium for his football team and if they had given him one, Irsay would have likely been very content with the situation.

When the NFL awarded franchises to Jacksonville and Carolina in 1995, would one of them instead have been given to Indianapolis? Before all of this transpired, the NFL was frugal about giving Jacksonville a football team because Florida already had two NFL teams -- the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At that point in time, St. Louis and Charlotte were considered heavy favorites and it seemed that those two cities were going to be the next NFL franchise destinations.

Robert Irsay and Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut
Robert Irsay and Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut

On Nov. 1, 1993, the NFL unanimously awarded Charlotte a franchise, which would later be renamed the "Carolina Panthers". Shortly thereafter, commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that a 30th franchise would be decided upon by Nov. 30. By then, everyone thought that St. Louis would be the city that would win, as the "Gateway City" was already printing up T-shirts that had "St. Louis Stallions" on the front. However, it just wasn't meant to be.

On that Nov. 30 deadline, the NFL announced that the new franchise would be headed to Jacksonville.

However, St. Louis would get their team, as the Los Angeles Rams relocated to the city.

Nonetheless, Jacksonville may have been the odd man out if Baltimore retained the Colts. Indianapolis was already working on a new stadium and by the time 1995 rolled around, the NFL would have seen that the city had prepared a new home for a future franchise. Because of this, the NFL probably would have given one of the 1995 expansion teams to Indianapolis. Carolina was already seemingly a no-brainer and Jacksonville was iffy, at best.

With that being said, Indianapolis and Carolina would have received expansion teams and St. Louis would have still gotten a franchise because of the Rams' relocation. So, it's pretty fair to say that Jacksonville would have never received a team. 

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and the other current Ravens team would have never played for Baltimore

To go through this scenario, I have to break a couple of things down. The Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. The Browns were relocated from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1995. The NFL "gave back" the Browns to Cleveland in 1999. Thus, the Browns are practically the Ravens right now without the history.

If the Colts stayed in Baltimore, the Browns would have never relocated to Baltimore in 1995. The NFL just wouldn't have given them a second team. With that being said, if Art Modell still elected to move the franchise, it would have been to a more desirable city such as Phoenix, Indianapolis or St. Louis. Other possible cities could be thrown in there like Memphis or even Nashville, a city that would get a franchise in 1997 when the Houston Oilers moved there.

So, it would be safe to assume that players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis and others would never have played a single down in Baltimore.

For all we know, they could be playing for any of the other 31 teams that are currently in the NFL. There's also a legitimate possibility that they could be playing for a team that never came into fruition, such as the St. Louis Stallions or the Memphis Hound Dogs, a proposed team that eventually lost out to Jacksonville and Carolina in 1995.

We can only speculate at this point what would have happened. We can't hop in a time machine, go back to NFL meetings in 1984 or 1995 and see what could have transpired if the Colts never moved. It'd surely be nice though.

The possible St. Louis Stallions uniform
The possible St. Louis Stallions uniform

Would the careers of former and current Ravens been better, worse or the same?

This question really can't be answered. We can only assume what would have occurred if the Colts stayed in Baltimore. I've already eluded to certain aspects of the Colts' move and it's fair to agree that the Ravens would never have existed if it weren't for two things, the Colts move to Indianapolis in 1984 and Art Modell's Browns relocating to Cleveland in 1995.

If the Colts stayed in Baltimore and Modell kept his team in Cleveland, there would be no Baltimore Ravens. It's as simple as that.

Since the Ravens' inception in 1996, they have mostly run the 3-4 defense, which utilizes three defensive linemen and four linebackers. Players like Lewis, Reed, Ngata, Terrell Suggs and others have flourished because of the Ravens' defense and playbook.

It's hard to speculate what would have happened if they never played for Baltimore. There's a good chance that Lewis may have never become the Hall of Fame caliber player that he is today unless he played for the Ravens. There's no doubt that Lewis has been phenomenal in the 3-4 scheme and if he had played for a franchise that runs the 4-3 like Chicago, Atlanta, Oakland or Minnesota, he may have never become one of the most feared defensive players in NFL history.

The Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999
The Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999

It's even possible that if he was chosen by a different team in 1996, he may have never become a starter on that respective team. He may never have gotten the opportunity to show what he can do at the professional level and instead of us talking about how great Lewis has been, we could be talking about how his career was wasted on a team that wouldn't properly utilize him.

In Ed Reed's case, there's a very good gamble that he would have still become the player he is today, no matter what team he was chosen by. If he was drafted by a team that would have started him immediately, Reed would likely be the same player, although his stats would either increase or decrease. Reed would have likely done the same things to become a better player, even if he didn't play in Baltimore.

Additionally, since Haloti Ngata's rookie season, he has been listed as a nose tackle. But what if he ended up on a 4-3 team? He wouldn't be the anchor of the defensive line and he would likely have to split time with another defensive tackle if he were in a 4-3 scheme. This means that Ngata would not have become the dominant force we know him to be today. He could have perhaps been a mediocre player on some other team. But, he could also have become better. We just never know.

You can also make the same points about the players on the offensive side of the ball, especially for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco has started every single game for Baltimore since his rookie season in 2008. Historically, the Ravens have been one of those teams like Cleveland or Chicago because of the lack of a "true" No. 1 receiver. Luckily, Flacco now has Anquan Boldin, whose production has dropped off since he came to Baltimore two years ago.

What the Memphis Hound Dogs logo would have looked like
What the Memphis Hound Dogs logo would have looked like

However, if the Ravens never existed, Flacco would have never played for Baltimore. With that being said, since there would be no Ravens team, Flacco could have been drafted by a team with a great receiving corps and a stupendous offense. If that was the case, Flacco would have likely progressed a lot sooner and faster and it's a very distinct possibility that Flacco could be better than he is right now. He could have multiple Pro Bowl appearances, franchise records and even a Super Bowl ring.

For all we know, if Flacco played for someone else, he could be better than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He could actually be the "best quarterback in the NFL," like he has stated before. However, the wheel could turn the other way and he could be worse than John Beck, Curtis Painter, Tarvaris Jackson and others. Like I've said numerous times throughout this piece, you just don't know what could have happened. We can only speculate and think of it in our heads. We will never know what could have been.

So, what's your point?

The point I'm trying to make is that things could have turned out for the better because of the Colts' move to Indianapolis on that dreary night. Of course, the move has left a sour taste in most Baltimore residents' mouths, but it could be better in the long run.

After all, five years after the city of Baltimore was awarded another franchise, they went on to win the franchise's only Super Bowl and the city's second title.

If the Colts had stayed in Baltimore, they could still be the mockery of the league. They may have had a few quality seasons, but that's about it. Baltimore won a Super Bowl in 2000 and the fans would have never gotten to experience that sense of enjoyment if it weren't for Robert Irsay's decision.

Additionally, who knows what could have happened to the NFL if the Colts stayed? The NFL may have never grown into 32 teams and the league could be 28 or 30 teams like it was many years ago.

The cities of Indianapolis and Baltimore, even though they may be angry at each other, won because of that move in March of 1984. Both cities have gotten what they have wanted, a Super Bowl title. Both cities have experienced great things by watching their football teams. The decision to move to Indianapolis may have seemed stupid back in 1984, but it seems to have paid off  for both cities, the NFL, the players and the fans.