Colts' championship bid stirs emotions in Baltimore

WHEN THE Indianapolis Colts run onto the field tomorrow in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, Baltimore fans will experience the full gamut of emotions ranging from sheer bitterness to possible joy.

For the most part, the city has gotten over the Colts sneaking out of town under the cover of darkness, leaving Baltimore for Indianapolis in Mayflower trucks on a cold, snowy night in March 1984.


A common thread of hate that was once shared by almost everyone has started to fade except with those who grew up with the old Colts, the real Colts, the Baltimore Colts.

"The younger generation has forgotten how great this city was and the role Baltimore played," said Bruce Laird, a former safety who played with the Colts from 1972 to 1981. "From 1956 until 1977, this city had one of the most winningest franchises.


"But I understand that they are the Indianapolis Colts. I like [quarterback] Peyton Manning. He is a quality individual. I know his father. Sure, I can root for the Colts. It is what it is."

Such talk was considered near blasphemy a decade ago, but that attitude started to change once the Ravens started playing in 1996 after the franchise was moved from Cleveland.

The Ravens weren't exactly greeted with open arms by the public here, either because fans weren't happy taking another team or because they knew how Cleveland fans felt.

But with Baltimore back in the league, fans could find new public enemies. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns replaced the Colts and Washington Redskins atop the most-hated list.

"When the Colts left, a lot of hearts were ripped out. I lost interest in football for a while," said Donnie Stotelmyer, 47, a corrections officer in Hagerstown. "Then I started watching the Redskins. Then we had the [Canadian Football League] Stallions. I just wanted a local team to root for.

"We had lost out to Jacksonville and Carolina in expansion, and then you had Arizona and the Rams who threatened to move here but didn't. I promised myself that if we ever got a team back in Baltimore, I would become a die-hard fan."

A lot of Ravens fans are too young to remember the Colts, and that's the market the Ravens targeted when they moved to town.

"I never hated them [Indianapolis Colts]," said Rody Knapp, 37, a parole and probation supervisor who lives in Parkville. "None of my friends hate them. We don't even talk about that situation. Any bad feelings I had for the Colts, well, I lost that since the Ravens hit town."


Manning is also a difference-maker. He has universal appeal. Before this season, Manning was 0-3 in the playoffs. This season, the league co-Most Valuable Player (with Tennessee's Steve McNair) has been nearly perfect in two playoff games, with a 156.9 quarterback rating.

Manning was 22-for-26 for 377 yards and five touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos in the wild-card game, and 22-for-30 for 304 yards and three touchdown passes against the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference semifinals. He has had no interceptions. Plus, he calls his own plays.

"I have to go with the Colts. It will be the first time ever," said Rosanne Connelly, 50, of Granite, Md., a financial management analyst with the Social Security Administration. "He calls his own plays in a game, and that reminds me of John Unitas, which is old-school football. I'm going to get to see a Johnny U. protege play."

It's those types of comparisons that will drive old Colts fans nuts this weekend. If the networks talk about Colts history, they will show clips of Lenny Moore, Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey and Artie Donovan. They will show clips of the 1958 championship game, when the Colts beat the New York Giants in what has been called "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

Then there are the uniforms and the horseshoe logo. It's the best in the NFL. You feel a little twinge when you see it. The passion and hero-worshipping from an era gone by don't fade easily.

"The new fans have the Ravens, and the Colts fans have their memories," said Tom Matte, a Colts running back from 1961 to 1972. "But where are we, the players? We're hanging in limbo. We've never been invited to Indianapolis for any special events, and don't want to be.


"But our records, what transpired here in Baltimore, should not be in the Indianapolis record books, and Hall of Fame displays should not be under anything entitled Indianapolis. At least Art Modell gave Cleveland their name and colors back."

That's the unpardonable sin for the Indianapolis Colts in Baltimore. It wasn't just a team that was stolen, but a way of life. Football fans are different from most sports fans. There are only 16 regular-season games. Wins and losses affect emotions throughout the entire week.

"A heritage was taken away," said Ed Malkinski, 57, of Pasadena. "No way will I root for the Colts. They will always be the enemy as long as there is an Irsay around. They took away our pride and our passion. Any of us around from back then still share some of the same feelings. You can get over it, but no way will I ever get over it."

Ken Kincer, 63, of Bowleys Quarters, is retired and a former longtime employee of Esskay. He is one of those superstitious football fans. So if he is sitting on his sofa a certain way, and the Colts are doing poorly, he will remain in that position for the entire game.

Anything to cause the Colts bad luck.

"It's not Indianapolis' fault, but it was their goofy owner," Kincer said. "If buying a bigger screen means that they'll lose, I'll buy one. Every time we play the Colts, I want to get even with them. It's still a big part of me, one that I won't let go.


"The franchise had so much history. Turn on Classic TV, and every year since like 1956, something always involved the Colts regardless of if it was good or bad. Hell, even that plane crashed in Baltimore," Kincer said, referring to an incident in the upper deck after a 1976 playoff game at Memorial Stadium.

Stuart Brown, a dentist in Owings Mills, said: "Are you happy if your ex [wife or husband] wins the lottery?"

One thing hasn't changed about the Colts. When they resided in Baltimore, they stirred a lot of emotion. They'll be stirring some again tomorrow.