Success of Ravens and Orioles brings back memories of 1971

Forty-one years. Until now, that's how long it had been since Baltimore's baseball and football teams thrilled fans by making their respective playoffs in the same year.

In January, the Ravens played New England for the AFC championship, and lost to the Patriots. Earlier this month, the Orioles advanced to the American League Division Series, bowing to the New York Yankees.


For the first time in decades, Baltimoreans can wear the colors of two teams with equal pride. Orange one day, purple the next. A Ravens jersey with an Orioles cap. It wouldn't make the cover of GQ, but it captures the mood of the city — and harkens back to happy days of yore.

In January, 1971, the Colts won Super Bowl V, defeating the Dallas Cowboys. Nine months later, the Orioles, defending world champions, reached the World Series before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.


There's more. That April, the Baltimore Bullets advanced to the NBA finals for the first time, then fell to the Milwaukee Bucks. And the Baltimore Clippers finished with the best record in the American Hockey League, before losing in the Calder Cup playoffs.

At no other time in the city's sports history did so many clubs peak in unison.

"Every team was riding high. It was a great time to be a professional athlete here," former Colts running back Sam Havrilak said.

Nor was their success a seismic blip. The Colts were dynastic, having won 75 percent of their games during an eight-year span dating back to 1964. The Orioles boasted four 20-game winners (Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson) in 1971, when they won 100 or more games for the third straight year, a feat matched by only two other teams in major league history.

Appreciative fans took note.

"Every restaurant we [players] went to, on an off day or after a ball game, it was tough to buy your own dinner," said Pete Richert, then an Orioles pitcher. "Baltimore isn't a big-money town, but people took care of us."

Their Super Bowl victory, though a comedy of errors, raised the stature of the Colts, already the city's favorite sons.

"Anytime you went downtown, someone would recognize you, even if you were on the kickoff team," defensive tackle Fred Miller said. "People would shake your hand and ask you to sign a cap, shirt or even a napkin."

It was a year of civic pride, celebration and continuity — though the Orioles' prosperity did nag at the Colts, said Bob Vogel, the team's All-Pro tackle.

"When they [the Orioles] made the playoffs, it was a mixed blessing," Vogel said. "For several weeks, we had to practice at McDonogh School, whose facilities were pedestrian, at best."

Also, he said, the Colts' grounds crew couldn't lay turf on the infield at Memorial Stadium until baseball season ended.

"We'd play on Sundays in October and get all that sand, gravel and grit in our pants. But we suffered in silence," Vogel said.


No matter. On Jan. 3, 1971, the Colts (13-2-1) defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27-17 to win the AFC championship. Rowdy fans pelted the Raiders with snowballs from a blizzard that had hit Baltimore two days before.

The Super Bowl victory, in Miami, triggered little fanfare back home. Most of the Colts flew to Bermuda for a week's vacation, courtesy of owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Not that the players were particularly jubilant, having been upset by the New York Jets in the title game two years earlier.

"I'd bought a new suit to wear after the game, if we won," second-year receiver Eddie Hinton said. "So, afterward, I was sitting in the locker room, in my underwear, wondering what to do because the players were brooding.

"'Did we just win the Super Bowl?' I asked. 'Yeah, kid,' a veteran said. "The game we should have won two years ago.' "

Nonetheless, 2,000 shivering fans stood in 19-degree cold at wind-whipped Friendship Airport to greeted the handful of Colts who returned to Baltimore on their Eastern Airlines charter after the game. Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro was there, as was comptroller Hyman Pressman, who recited this verse:

"You'll have to forgive us for bubbling over,

We're floating on air, and soaring in clover,

We're charged with a hundred-million volts,

From two world champions — Orioles and Colts!"

Despite their success, players on one team seldom hobnobbed with those on the others.

"We'd have a few beers with the hockey players and go see them play," said Miller. "Never understood the game, though.

"But when you're young and raising a family, there's little time for much else. Plus, we all had off-season jobs," said Miller, who worked for a local forklift company. "At the workplace, we were just regular Joes, no different from the guys who sold cars or worked at Bethlehem Steel. We just happened to play football for part of the year. And the fans appreciated that."

Dick Hall, an Orioles pitcher, was also an accountant and did the taxes for Colts linebacker Mike Curtis. Slugger Boog Powell attended the Super Bowl, cheering the Colts from his seat on the 10-yard line. Vogel became friends with several Orioles and approached McNally (21-5 that year) with a proposition.

"I always thought I'd like to stand up to the plate against a major league pitcher," the Colts' 250-pound lineman said.

McNally's response?

"I'd stick in in your ear," the left-hander said.

The Orioles finished with an 11-game winning streak and 101 victories, despite four rain-outs that were never made up. Yet despite having won the World Series in 1970, they averaged less than 14,000 in attendance and only topped 1 million in their next-to-last home game.

"People assumed we were going to win it all. It was almost a matter of fact," Powell said. "There was talk of, 'Why should we buy tickets for the regular season when we can hold out and go to a playoff game?'

"An awful lot of good baseball fans believed nobody had a chance against us. We kind of felt that way, too. Maybe we shouldn't have."

The Orioles played Oakland for the American League pennant. The A's arrived and were greeted at the airport by several high school bands and a group of Playboy bunnies. Banners strewn around town trumpeted "Baltimore — City of Champions, Flagtown U.S.A."

The Orioles took that flag in three straight games, the last one on the road. Again, 2,000 fans armed with signs and banners stood at the airport in a drenching rain to welcome the AL champs home from Oakland at 1 a.m. Three Pikesville housewives engulfed Powell, showering him with bouquets of flowers while squealing, "Boog, you're beautiful."

Though tame by today's standards, an Orioles "pep rally" in Hopkins Plaza kicked off the World Series. More than 8,000 people gathered to eat crab cakes, meet the players, hear the U.S. Post Office Dixieland Jazz Band and watch a performance by The Great Kreskin, a magician who wowed the crowd by finding a baseball that had been hidden in the plaza. City Council President William Donald Schaefer led all in Orioles cheers and declared it "Sink The Pirates Weekend" in Baltimore.

Other politicians joined the act. Governor Marvin Mandel (Maryland) wagered a bushel of Chesapeake Bay crabs on the Series, while Gov. Milton Shapp (Pennsylvania) put up a bushel of mushrooms.

The crabs scuttled north. Pittsburgh took the Series, 4 games to 3.


In hindsight, said Powell, the revelry then paled beside the excitement stirred up by this year's Ravens and, now, the Orioles.


"I've never seen anything like the crazy fantacism that's here now," he said. "In 1971, people took [the Orioles' success] for granted. This is different. It's like the Mardi Gras at Camden Yards, maybe because it's been so long since we had a winner."

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