OCEAN CITY -- Along the boardwalk, the perfect place for a parade, marched the Colts Corrals, a network of fan clubs that had their team taken away, but out of habit continue to demonstrate what can only be described as a distinct passion for football. Members were gathered in Maryland's beach resort for their annual weekend convention that also involved fun and frolic and partaking of sand, surf and suds.
This is the cheerleading base, the working force, that represents what Baltimore football is all about. The Corrals, with an almost 40-year history, have endeavored to attach themselves to the city's new entry in the Canadian League but believe there's a reluctance on the part of management to entrust them with responsibilities or the attention they truly deserve.
In fact, the Baltimore Football Club of the CFL has started a fan club of its own, which is its prerogative. The cost of membership is $39.95. Obviously, it's searching for a new identity and wants to see it develop. But it doesn't make much sense to have a ready-made organization wanting to help and not draw from its support and enthusiasm.
The Colts Corrals are as much a symbol of Baltimore pro football as the Colts Band. They signify the glorious past and the soothing nostalgia that's associated with the joys of championship years and also the despair of how it feels to be stripped of a franchise. Owner Jim Speros of the CFL contingent should present them with flags and banners and do all he can to maintain a rapport.
The function in Ocean City had a representative of the CFL front office present to observe and make a report, but the Colts Corrals don't have to prove themselves. Their track record is outstanding. If the CFL alienates the Corrals, it will translate to some version of a disaster.
At its convention, the Corrals were distributing CFL material, including schedules, brochures, bumper stickers and picture posters. The parade was led by the oldest member of the Corrals, Lillian Neumann of Corral 15, who carried a sign that read:
"Bring It Home In 95."
Reference, of course, was to the team's winning the Grey Cup in the home season that starts July 8 at Memorial Stadium. The CFLs came within a game of doing it in 1994, which would have been an unprecedented achievement for an expansion team. The point to be made is that the Corrals are CFL-oriented. Speros doesn't even have to fan the fires.
One of the honored guests at the convention, Fred Miller, former defensive tackle of the Colts, drew applause from the audience when he said, "At first, I wasn't sure I liked the Canadian game but the more I saw it the more I got to enjoy it. I had to become accustomed to what resembled a 'Chinese fire drill' with all those backs going in motion.
"But, along with my wife, Charlene, we have bought our tickets again for the season and we will be there for every game. It's football and I love the wide-open style. You can say what you want about Jim Speros but he showed the public a good time with fireworks, the Colts Band performing and promotions. That's the bottom line."
The presence of pro football in Baltimore has brought a resurgence in interest in the Corrals. Two new ones, to be numbered CC 38 (from downtown Baltimore) and CC 39 (from Harford County), have been awarded charters. Not all of the Corrals are active but some are re-establishing their agendas.
"It cut the heart out of Baltimore when the team was taken away," said Juanita Stephenson. Miller and two other former Colts, Mike Curtis and Bruce Laird, were quick to agree.
Bill Cervenka of Bowie asked a question -- "I keep trying to find out what Baltimore did to irk the National Football League and I can't get a plausible answer. Don't tell me Baltimore isn't better than Jacksonville, St. Louis or an expansion into Los Angeles. Why, why, why?"
With the defection of the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, things slumped so badly with one Corral it dropped off to only two members, Aubrey Meyer and his wife Elaine. They were able to hold their meetings at the breakfast table. "But we're back up to 50 members and they keep coming," reported Meyer.
Butch Ergott, president of the combined Council of Colts Corrals, said, "Interest is back because of the CFL in Baltimore. In Hanover, Pa., I understand they have 100 members with 48 on the waiting list."
The executive board chairman of the Corrals, Jim Phillips, of Hagerstown, when asked how involved the group was with the CFL, said, "We have met and notified the team management of our interest. All they have to do is ask us and we're ready to respond with any project where we can be of assistance. We'd like some type of a CFL banner for purposes of identity and we've been told it has been ordered."