A Colts move makes name more than a passing fancy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

John Moag hears it. Everyone hears it.

The Indianapolis Colts might move to Cleveland.

The Colts name could return to Baltimore.

"My gut tells me there's some real validity to it," said Moag, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "But that's just a gut reaction.

"Cleveland has got to get a team. The league isn't the least bit enthusiastic about expansion. And Indianapolis is an answer."

So, what about it, Baltimore?

Ravens owner Art Modell said yesterday that if the Colts' name became available, he would conduct an extensive poll to determine if fans wanted a change.

"I won't make the decision myself," Modell said. "It's something I'd leave up to the public."

And when Baltimore faces a choice between past and present, past is always a two-touchdown favorite.

For all the talk of burying the past and embracing the future, this is a Colts town, always has been, always will be.

The change would correct one of the great injustices in sports history, the theft not only of a team, but also a tradition.

Which would you rather see, the purple and black or the blue and white? The ugly uniform or the classic? The bird or the horseshoe?

Those questions will echo throughout Baltimore if the Colts become the new Cleveland Browns, assuming the identity mandated by the agreement that allowed Modell to abandon his former city.

Yet, the answers might not be as obvious as they appear.

Modell, 71, noted that teen-age Ravens fans have no attachment to the Colts, who left Baltimore after the 1983 season.

Moag, too, thinks opinion would be split.

"There are going to be some generational issues here," Moag said. "And the interesting thing is, I think you'll hear a lot of older folks say, 'Let it rest.'

"I don't know. I hear both sides. A lot of people say, 'Wouldn't it be great to get the blue and white and horseshoe back?' And a lot of people say, 'It's over, let's bring all the stuff back here and create an appropriate shrine for it.' "

Reviving the name, retiring the name, it all hinges on the Colts' leaving Indianapolis for Cleveland, an idea that appears to be gaining momentum.

The Colts aren't your typical NFL team in search of a better deal. They don't want a new stadium. They want greater support from a market that might be too small to provide it.

A new lease wouldn't resolve that issue. Nor would additional revenue-producing possibilities at the RCA Dome. The question is more fundamental:

Can the NFL in Indianapolis survive?

The Colts' stadium revenues are the lowest in the NFL. Club president Jim Irsay said two weeks ago that the team might lose $30 million over the next three or four years.

How ominous! How fortuitous!

Cleveland has been promised a team by 1999.

That city would prefer an expansion franchise -- who wouldn't? -- but the choice is the NFL's, and the owners' sympathy extends only so far.

They don't want to carve out another slice of national TV revenue, not when a struggling franchise can hit the PSL jackpot in Cleveland and live happily ever after.

Modell believes other teams are in greater trouble than Indianapolis, but he's certainly prepared for the possibility of acquiring the Colts' name.

The Ravens have ordered purple seats for their new stadium at Camden Yards, with a trademark bird built into the seat frame on every aisle.

They've also considered putting a giant raven atop one end of the stadium to serve as an identifying signature for their new home.

These plans are subject to change, however.

"Anything that has to be undone, we'll undo it," Modell said. "That raven will come down in five minutes and the horseshoe will come up, if that's the case."

If.

Modell said he "wouldn't hesitate for a minute" to take the Colts' name -- he reportedly offered $5 million for it upon arriving in Baltimore, but Jim Irsay demanded $25 million.

That price was prohibitive, so Modell conducted a poll through The Sun to determine a new name, and the winner was "Ravens."

It was a consolation prize, just like "Stallions," the name chosen by CFL owner Jim Speros after he lost a lawsuit to the NFL for trying to use "Colts."

The Ravens didn't make anyone forget the city's true football identity, not after a 4-12 inaugural season. No one would miss the name, the uniform, the colors.

By reclaiming the Colts' name, Baltimore could also reclaim its NFL past. The Colts took their records to Indianapolis, but they couldn't pull the same stunt in Cleveland as the new Browns.

Cleveland kept its history, remember?

Thus, the Colts' records would shift back to Baltimore -- a far more appealing prospect than the Ravens' continuing with zero heritage, like an expansion franchise.

The Colts in Baltimore. The Browns in Cleveland. No team in Indianapolis. It would be the world as we knew it before the arrival of the Mayflower -- give or take a few hundred millions, and a similar cost in pain and suffering.

This time, we're not only rooting for an Irsay to move, we'll load his vans.

C'mon, Baltimore.

Gimme a C. Gimme an O.

Pub Date: 5/20/97

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