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Jilted by first love Colts, some wary of new suitor


Vince Bagli's new book on our old football team arrives just in time for the new football team. The old team was called the Baltimore Colts. The new team is called anything Art Modell wants.

Bagli's book, written with Norman L. Macht, is titled "Sundays at 2:00 with the Baltimore Colts." All it does is evoke a 30-year love affair. Can love be lovelier the second time around? Before we consider that, Bagli and Macht remind us how sweet it felt the first time around, when everybody was so much younger.

"See, that's the key," Lenny Moore was saying the night after the sacking of Cleveland. "All of us here grew up together."

"That's right," said Fred Miller. "The team, and the whole town. Hey, remember the Colts Corrals?"

Moore, the superlative Sputnik, and Miller, the marvelous defensive tackle, were among the crowd at McCafferty's Restaurant on Tuesday night to celebrate the new book on their old team. Nobody in attendance had to be reminded what it felt like back then. It felt like romance. It felt like it would never end, until Robert Irsay's arrival. Everybody would love to make it feel like that again. And nobody knows if it ever can.

"You know what it felt like back then?" Mike Curtis was asking now. In his day, Curtis was a ferocious, mad dog linebacker. Remember him attempting to unscrew Roman Gabriel's head? Remember him stiffing that fan who tried to run off with a football? Now, all these autumns later, here was the other side of Mike Curtis, previously unsuspected.

"I'll tell you what it felt like to be a Baltimore Colt," Curtis said very slowly. "It felt like we were attached to this town at our very core. You understand what I'm saying? It felt like we were attached at our souls."

He started clenching and unclenching his jaw now. "You know what I used to do after games?" he said. "I used to drive down to East Baltimore and find a bar and sit there with all those guys from Highlandtown and Middle River. They were our people, see? They were hard-working guys like us, and they loved us. I don't know if you can have that any more. These guys move around so much now, and they're making all that money. It's like, can Elizabeth Taylor go out and have a drink with her fans? It's two different worlds, isn't it? It's like royalty."

We all want to be innocent again, and wonder if it's possible. We want to approach football as a game instead of a business, and wonder if it's too late for those who remember Sundays at 2:00 with the Baltimore Colts.

In his new book, Bagli, the retired broadcaster, remembers watching the early Colts working out at Herring Run Park. The new team says it needs millions to build a private facility. Bagli remembers, "The kids in our neighborhood were especially proud when Hamilton's own Bud Grain (Poly and Penn) played guard on that first team. Then Elmer Wingate (Poly and Maryland), who lived two blocks from Grain, made the '53 team." And the new team in town? It's like Butch's plaintive cry to Sundance: Who are these guys?

We want to love them the way we loved Lenny and Miller and Curtis, but we know the game has changed and we suspect the players have, too. These old guys still live in the area. So do Unitas and Parker and Donovan, and Linhart and Volk and Laird and Mutscheller and others. Do the modern ballplayers stay in one place long enough to put down roots? For that matter, do the modern owners? All those years on 33rd Street, extending our hearts, we assumed the ballclub was extending its own. Do such things still happen?

In Bagli's book, Gino Marchetti says, "To me, running on that field, hearing that Baltimore Colts song gave me such a thrill. I heard it for 15 years. From the first day I heard it to the last, it jumped me up a little bit."

We want to believe such things can happen again, and suspect that it can -- for some people. Maybe it breaks along a generational line. Those of us old enough to remember the glory days of the Colts, and the pain of losing them, are holding back a little. Like Bill Clinton, we feel Cleveland's pain. Like Vince Bagli, we guard yesterday's joys protectively.

Those too young to remember any of this are less ambivalent. They were out there on the parking lot at Camden Yards Monday when Art Modell showed up, and they chanted, "Art, Art, Art," as though no facts were involved here beyond the arrival of a man with a ballclub.

Let them enjoy the new team. The rest of us feel good that football's coming back. But we still have to sort out our emotions. We've been saying graveside services over the Colts for so long that it's become a ritual. We have to be convinced the new team will appreciate our love, and maybe even return it.

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