Autograph event mixes past, present

The Baltimore Sun

Autograph festivals might cater to fans, but athletes can get caught up in the hoopla as well.

This weekend's signing event at Towson University - one of the largest ever held - will corral about 80 one-time members of the Baltimore Colts and Ravens, as well as some current Ravens. It has been billed as a multi-generational shindig, a historic treat for fans as well as for the players, many of whom have never met their sidekicks from the "other" pro football team that won the city's heart.

For instance, former Ravens center Mike Flynn will finally get to greet Mike Curtis, the Colts All-Pro linebacker and one of Flynn's boyhood favorites.

"I've wanted to meet [Curtis] ever since I was a kid and saw films of him clotheslining a fan who'd run onto the field and stolen the ball," Flynn said of that 1971 incident at Memorial Stadium.

For Lou Michaels, a rugged defensive end who played for the Colts in the 1960s, the event affords him a chance to grill today's players:

"Why, after he makes a great hit, does a defensive guy dance around for five minutes? He uses up all of his energy and never makes the same play twice in a row.

"I never did that. Gino [Marchetti] never did that. I don't understand it," said Michaels, now 72. "I just hope [the Ravens] don't get upset when I ask them."

Dubbed "Five Thirty-Five," the affair is a nod to Baltimore's two Super Bowl championships - the Colts' victory in Super Bowl V in 1971 and the Ravens' win in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. Featured are players from those teams, as well as a few from the Colts' 1958 NFL title team and a bevy of others who, although not members of the Colts' Super Bowl team, played during the club's halcyon days of the 1960s.

Missing are Hall of Famers Marchetti, Art Donovan and Raymond Berry, all stars of the 1958 championship team. Their contractual appearances at an autograph show last week prohibits them for signing elsewhere for a month.

Current Ravens slated to participate include Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Troy Smith and Willis McGahee.

The two-day signfest kicks off tonight with a VIP dinner and silent auction at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Pikesville. Tickets are $1,250.

The autograph show tomorrow, at the Towson Center, has a $13 cover charge ($7 for children). There's also a fee for each player's autograph, ranging from $10 (the norm) to $85 for Ray Lewis'.

Ravens alumni will sign between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The Colts' session is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

More information is available at www.v-xxxv.com.

The show is sponsored by Alumni Management Group, a local sports agency. A portion of the proceeds goes to Fourth & Goal, a national organization benefiting retired NFL athletes.

Promoted as "the world's biggest autograph signing event," the spectacle is at least the largest in the past eight years, according to Howard Zarabet, whose Web site, signingshotline.com, lists every athlete's autograph appearance in the United States and Canada.

"Having 80 players at one signing is very big," Zarabet said. "If it's not the largest, it's right up there."

For many old-timers, especially the Colts, it's a chance to reunite and reminisce with teammates one more time.

"Some of these guys haven't seen each other for 40 years," said Tom Matte, a former Colt who helped organize the event. "Imagine the stories that'll be told by guys like Jimmy Orr, Bobby Boyd, Bubba Smith and Jim O'Brien.

"Saturday night, we'll all go out and get some crabs."

Provided that their hands aren't cramped from scribbling autographs, said Alex Hawkins, the team's zany special teams captain of the 1960s.

"It has been a long time since I signed one," he said, "except on the back of a check."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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