Play it one more time: Fight, you Baltimore Colts Orioles crowd pays respect before game


C The blue and white of the Baltimore Colts stood tall at Memorial Stadium for one last time yesterday.

More than seven years after Robert Irsay and Mayflower vans spirited one of professional football's legendary franchises to Indiana, a baseball crowd paid its respects to 22 former Colts before the Baltimore Orioles-Cleveland Indians game.

"I thought it was great that we're still appreciated after all these years," said Hall of Famer Jim Parker.

"It was a fun thing to do," Dick Bielski said. "An awful lot of our people showed up."

The Orioles, in conjunction with the Maryland Stadium Authority and Greater Baltimore Committee, relived some of the color and pageantry of the Colts' heyday with a pre-game show featuring The Baltimore Colts Band.

Big Wheel, the original in-the-stands cheerleader, spelled out C-O-L-T-S for the gathering crowd. And when the band marched onto the field playing the Colts fight song, more than one lump arose in throats throughout the stands.

"It sort of brings wells inside you when the band plays that," said Ernie Tyler, longtime field attendant for the Orioles who also worked in various capacities for the Colts. "There is nothing like it. It does terrible things to you."

The Colts band played to a standing ovation at the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, last month and has and will perform in NFL cities. But there was nothing like yesterday.

"We were returning home," said John Ziemann, president of the band. "Our old members had tears in their eyes. The young ones were in awe of being in this stadium. They told us, 'Now, we understand.' "

The reception was outstanding, considering the stands were only about half-filled during the salute and a generation has passed since many of the Colts heroes honored yesterday played on this field.

Len Burrier, the Big Wheel, called the day "the end to a great saga. I wish we could have done this in the middle of the fifth inning or something when the stands were full [the umpires vetoed that idea].

"But it was a fine gesture by the Orioles. And it's nice to know the fans haven't forgotten what the Colts did. It was a great response I got, considering a lot of the people never saw a game."

"You almost have to be about 15 to remember the Colts," said linebacker Stan White. "My kids don't remember them. So it was a fine show of support. We need to use that and go forward."

The Colt Corrals still in operation were represented with their individual banners. Dixie, the team's mascot, cantered around the warning track.

A sign over the left-field bleachers said, "NFL in Baltimore in 1994."

The ex-Colts said they are hopeful the city will land an expansion franchise, but not as confident since Bob Tisch left the funding group to become part owner of the New York Giants.

"That was critical, but not fatal," White said. "We need to get going and get an ownership group in place. We're not perceived as favored, and I think the public needs something to rally around."

"I'm wishing," Parker said. "But I think we're going to have to start stadium construction to prove we're in football to stay."

Chuck Thompson, longtime Colts broadcaster, said he went to the reception for the team at the Designated Hitters' Lounge, "but I had to get out of there before I made a fool of myself. After I shook six to eight hands, it caught up with me.

"I'm convinced that the fans here have some kind of feeling with their athletic teams that doesn't exist in too many other places," he said.

Many of the old Colts limped onto the field, victims of arthritis and injuries that never healed. The greats, John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan and Parker, all Hall of Famers, were recognized. DiamondVision showed Colts highlights.

On the anniversary of his first pro victory, a coach seeking his 300th yesterday, Don Shula, delivered a special tribute via the big board.

Bielski said: "The Colts were here before any of us. They were a part of Baltimore."

"At one time Memorial Stadium was the Baltimore Colts," White said. "It was very nice of the Orioles to do this, recapture the glory.

"Standing out there before we were introduced, I was thinking, 'If the band plays the national anthem, I'm going to run out there and hit somebody.' "

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