Pour one out for the man who stole the Colts from Baltimore

William Hudnut, the former Indianapolis mayor instrumental in getting the Colts to move out of Baltimore, shown in 2007, died this weekend.
William Hudnut, the former Indianapolis mayor instrumental in getting the Colts to move out of Baltimore, shown in 2007, died this weekend.(JED KIRSCHBAUM / Baltimore Sun)

There is a statue of William H. Hudnut III in the large midwestern city where he served as mayor for 16 years, and if you read any of the obituaries that chronicled his death this weekend at age 84, it will become apparent that he was quite a guy.

There is just one problem.


He was the guy who stole the Baltimore Colts.

Hudnut, the mayor of Indianapolis from 1975-1991, presided over the building of the Hoosier Dome and lured Bob Irsay and the beloved Colts to a rust belt city that needed a centerpiece for what would become a national model of urban renewal.

Of course, he and Irsay ripped the heart out of Baltimore, and the night the Mayflower trucks left town will forever live in infamy for an aging generation of local sports fans, so you probably aren't expecting there to be a memorial service anywhere around here … unless you know the rest of the story.

Following Hudnut's long and successful tenure as mayor, during which Indianapolis was dramatically revived, he moved to Chicago and then to the Washington D.C. area, where he was elected mayor of Chevy Chase and served from 2004 to 2006. He passed away from cancer and heart problems at a hospice facility in the state where he had become Baltimore's Public Enemy No. 2 back in March 1984.

Time generally does heal most wounds, but this one has remained open for more than 32 years, even though Baltimore eventually got the Ravens and both cities have since enjoyed more pro football success than most other NFL locales.

While the passing of another major player in that sad episode probably isn't going to scrub the horseshoe off of any old hearts, maybe it will provide an opportunity to look back with a broader perspective on that watershed moment in the history of both Baltimore and Indianapolis.

No one can say that either city isn't better for it. Indianapolis built an amazing metropolitan comeback story around the arrival of the Colts and now is a midwestern Mecca for sports fans, tourists and conventioneers.

The stunning departure of the Colts forced Baltimore to trade the small-town intimacy of Memorial Stadium for the chance to become a truly major league city. Oriole Park at Camden Yards broke ground six years later and changed the face of stadium architecture forever. The Cleveland Browns would soon become the Ravens and spawn the expansion of the Inner Harbor sports complex to include what is now called M&T Bank Stadium.


We revere Modell and the efforts of governor William Donald Schaefer and mayor Kurt Schmoke to bring an NFL franchise back to Baltimore. The people of Indianapolis feel the same way about Hudnut, whose vision for an "economically competitive and compassionate" city was largely realized during and after his four terms as major.

His influence extended well beyond them and, just last year, he was one of several former mayors who wrote a public letter during the uproar over Indiana's controversial religious objections law, claiming that it could undo decades of progress to make Indianapolis "an inclusive, caring and hospitable city."

The law, which was widely viewed as an assault on the legal right of gays to fight discrimination, was later modified by governor Mike Pence and the Indiana legislature.

There is some irony in the fact that Hudnut would spend his final years in Maryland and not in the state where in 2014 he was immortalized in bronze, sitting on a bench in downtown Indianapolis. But his connection to that snowy night in Owings Mills went largely unnoticed, perhaps because Colts fans have always kept the focus of their hatred on Irsay and the Indianapolis incarnation of their once-beloved football team.

That's OK, because Hudnut — like Schaefer, Schmoke and everyone who facilitated the arrival of the Ravens — was just doing what he thought was best for his community.


And clearly it was.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.