The Baltimore Colts relocation controversy was the decision by then-Colts owner Robert Irsay to move the National Football League team from Baltimore, Maryland to Indianapolis, Indiana completely unannounced and in the wee hours of March 29, 1984 after years of fighting over a new stadium to replace the inadequate Memorial Stadium. Twenty-seven years after the move, it is still bitter to many Baltimore natives, and would have a lasting impact on the NFL, including another controversial relocation twelve years later.
Actions leading up to the move
Despite being successful since arriving in Baltimore for the 1953 NFL season, Memorial Stadium was considered inadequate for both the Colts and Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles. In May 1969, the city of Baltimore announced it would seek a “substantial” increase in Memorial Stadium rental fees from Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and the team itself. Rosenbloom had already called Memorial Stadium “antiquated” and had threatened to move all Colts home games out of the stadium unless improvements were made. Rosenbloom even considered using $12–20 million of his own money to help fund the building of a new football only stadium on land in adjoining Baltimore County. By November 1971, Rosenbloom announced that the Colts would not return to Memorial Stadium when their lease ran out following the 1972 season and that he was not interested in negotiating with the city anymore. He wanted out of Baltimore for a few reasons — Team revenue, problems with Baltimore Orioles ownership relating to Memorial Stadium and food sales/parking fees, a running feud with the Baltimore press, and his new wife's desire to move to the West Coast. Will Keland, a real estate investor was originally slated to buy the Colts from Rosenbloom. However, Keland could not generate enough funds necessary to purchase the team. But his golfing buddy, Robert Irsay who originally was only slated to own 1 percent of the team, did have the money available and he moved in to make the purchase. On July 13, 1972, Robert Irsay became the owner of the Colts. Under the terms of the arrangement, Irsay bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million, then traded them to Rosenbloom for the Colts and $3 million in cash. The players for each team remained in their respective cities.
In 1971, Baltimore mayor, William Donald Schaefer, and the state's governor, Marvin Mandel, created a stadium committee to examine the city's stadium needs. Their report was a blow to Memorial Stadium. Some of the problems mentioned: 10,000 stadium's seats had views that were "less than desirable"; 20,000 seats were out-dated bench seats that had no back support; 7,000 so called seats were actually poorly constructed temporary bleachers that were installed for football games only. Also, there was not enough office space adequate enough for the front offices of either the Orioles or Colts, much less both teams combined. Both teams had to share locker rooms, the upper deck of Memorial Stadium did not circle the field, ending instead at the 50-yard line, thousands of potential seats (and added revenue) were missing. Any expansion plans for the stadium had usually mentioned less attractive (and less expensive) end-zone seats, not upper deck seating. And the number of bathroom facilities in Memorial Stadium was deemed inadequate.
Maryland's planners came up with an ambitious project. Nicknamed the Baltodome, the original plan was to create a facility near the city's Inner Harbor known as Camden Yards. The new stadium would host 70,000 fans for football games, 55,000 for baseball and 20,000 as an arena for hockey or basketball. For an estimated $78 million, the city would build a facility that would have kept all parties happy; Orioles owner Hoffberger, Colts owner Irsay, the Stadium Complex Authority (whose Chairman Edmond Rovner reiterated in 1972 that "A major consideration in Mr. Irsay's trading of franchises, was the city's firm commitment to proceed with these plans."), Baltimore Mayor Schaefer and the state's governor, Marvin Mandel.
But the proposal did not receive support to pass the Maryland legislature, in spite of assurances that contributions from taxpayers would be limited strictly to city and state loans. And on February 27, 1974, Maryland's Governor Mandel pulled the plug on the idea. Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger was blunt: "I will bow to the will of the people. They have told us what they want to tell us. First, they don't want a new park and second, they don't want a club." Robert Irsay was willing to wait. "Its not a matter of saying that there will be no stadium. Its a matter of getting the facts together so everybody is happy when they build the stadium. I'm a patient man. I think the people of Baltimore are going to see those new stadiums in New Orleans and Seattle opening in a year or two around the country, and they are going to realize they need a stadium ... for conventions and other things besides football." But Hyman Pressman, Baltimore's comptroller, was against using any public funds to build a new stadium. During the 1974 elections, Pressman had an amendment to the city's charter placed on the fall ballot. Known as Question P, the amendment called for declaring "the 33rd Street stadium as a memorial to war veterans and prohibiting use of city funds for construction of any other stadium." The measure passed 56 percent to 44 percent, and the same political motivations that had been used to upgrade the then Baltimore Stadium (Originally built in 1922) in the late-40s and rename it Memorial Stadium, effectively destroyed any chance of a new, modern sports complex being built in Baltimore.
Although the Colts made the playoffs for three straight years from 1975–77, there had still been no progress made on a new park for the team. Robert Irsay first spoke with Phoenix, Arizona in 1976 and then Indianapolis, Indiana in 1977 about the possibility of relocating his team to one of those cities. In 1976, he acknowledged publicly that he had received an "attractive offer" to move the franchise to Phoenix, Arizona. Then in 1977 said "I like Baltimore and want to stay there, but when are we going to find out something about our stadium? I'm getting offers from towns like Indianapolis to build me a new stadium and give me other inducements to move there. I dont want to but I'd like to see some action in Baltimore". In 1979, Hoffberger sold the Orioles to Washington D.C. attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who declared 1980 to be a trial year for the fans of Baltimore. He then went on to explain his concerns with Memorial Stadium, saying it had "inadequate parking and inadequate access and egress. Frankly, I dont know if those problems will ever be solvable at that location,". Irsay began shopping the Colts around in earnest, talking first to officials from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, Memphis, Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida where he visited the Gator Bowl packed with 50,000 cheering fans trying to convince him that Jacksonville would be the best home for the Colts. That same year Irsay presented Maryland's Governor Harry Hughes with a request for $25 million in renovation to the 64,124 seat Memorial Stadium. Irsay's request for $25 million in improvements was decreased to $23 million by the Maryland legislature. The plan added more seats (but none of the revenue-generating skyboxes), improving the plumbing and would've given both teams better office space. The plans approval was contingent on both the Colts and Baltimore Orioles signing long term leases. The Orioles challenged the requested football improvements and refused to sign anything more than a one year lease. Irsay also refused to sign long term. As a result, the funds and improvements never came.
Relocation to Indianapolis
Under the administration of Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar, and then continuing with his successor William Hudnut, Indianapolis was making a serious effort to reinvent itself into a 'Great American City'. In 1979, Indianapolis community leaders created the Indiana Sports Corp. in order to attract major sports events to central Indiana. The next year, Hudnut appointed a committee to study the feasibility of building a new stadium that could serve primarily as a boon to the city's convention business and, secondarily, as a lure for an NFL team.
Construction of the Hoosier Dome begins
In 1982, construction on the Hoosier Dome (later renamed the RCA Dome) began. Deputy Mayor David Frick, who would later lead the negotiations with the Colts and then go on to become chairman of the Indiana state commission that would oversee construction of the RCA Dome's replacement, Lucas Oil Stadium, would say that the RCA Dome was a key to changing the city's image. "Sports was an element in our game plan to change the image of the city back in the late 1970s, early 1980s,".
In February 1983, after relations between Irsay and the city of Baltimore had deteriorated significantly, Baltimore Mayor Schaefer asked the Maryland General Assembly to approve $15 million for renovation to Memorial Stadium. The legislature did not approve the request until the following spring, after the Colts' lease had expired, and only half of that $15 million would go towards improvements that the Colts were seeking (The other half for the Orioles'). However, Baltimore reportedly did offer Irsay a $15 million loan at 6.5%, a guarantee of at least 43,000 tickets sold per game for six years, and the purchase of the team's Owings Mills training facility for $4 million.
Negotiations with Phoenix
On March 2, 1983 NFL owners voted to give Irsay permission to move his franchise to the city of his choosing. Irsay continued discussions with several cities hungry for an NFL franchise (New York, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Jacksonville and Memphis) eventually narrowing the list of cities to two, Phoenix and Indianapolis. In January 1984, Baltimore's mayor Schaefer stated "We're not going to build a new stadium. We do not have the bonding capacity. We don't have the voters or taxpayer who can support a $60 million stadium. One-third of the people in Baltimore pay taxes. Unless private enterprise builds it, we wont build it." The Phoenix Metropolitan Sports Foundation, headed by real estate developer Eddie Lynch, along with Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and other top Arizona officials, had secretly met with Irsay early in January 1984. Preliminary talks seemed promising. Phoenix was offering a below market rate $15 million loan and rent free use of the 71,000 seat Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University. (Sun Devil Stadium would later serve as the home to the Arizona Cardinals from 1988-2005 after the team moved there from St. Louis, Missouri; that team has since moved into University of Phoenix Stadium within that market.) A second meeting was scheduled between Irsay and the Phoenix group. But when word of a second scheduled meeting leaked out and was reported by the media on the Friday before the Super Bowl, Irsay canceled. Meanwhile, Indianapolis and local real estate developer Robert Welch, were lobbying the NFL to bring an expansion team to the city, with Welch as team owner. Welch also had personal discussions with New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom about buying the team and moving it to Indianapolis.
In January 1984, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced that expansion had been put on hold. As a result of that announcement, Indiana Pacers' owner Herb Simon contacted Colts officials in order to take negotiations between the club and Indianapolis to the next level. Mayor Hudnut then assigned deputy mayor David Frick to begin secret negotiations with Colts counsel Michael Chernoff. On February 13, Colts representatives came to town to look at the Hoosier Dome construction. Colts owner Robert Irsay visited on February 23. "He [Irsay] was visibly moved," former deputy mayor Dave Frick said commenting on Irsay's reaction to entering the brand new domed stadium. "Emotionally, he was making the move." Meanwhile in Baltimore, the situation worsened. Eventually, the Maryland legislature intervened and on March 27, the Maryland Senate passed legislation giving the city of Baltimore the right to seize ownership of the team by eminent domain (An idea first floated in a memo written by Baltimore mayoral aide Mark Wasserman). Robert Irsay said that his move was "a direct result" of the eminent domain bill and Colts counsel Michael Chernoff would say of the move by the Maryland legislature "They not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, 'Want to see if it's loaded?' They forced him to make a decision that day".
March 29, 1984
On March 28, 1984, Phoenix businessmen withdrew their offer citing the recent legislative moves in Maryland and Irsay called the Indianapolis Mayor that afternoon and began serious negotiations in order to move the team before the Maryland legislature's other chamber could pass similar legislation. The city of Indianapolis offered the Colts owner a $12,500,000 loan, a $4,000,000 training complex, and the use of the brand new $77.5 million, 57,980 seat Hoosier Dome. After Irsay agreed to the deal, the Indianapolis Mayor called John B. Smith, his friend, neighbor and chief executive officer of Mayflower Transit, and 15 trucks were dispatched to the team's Owings Mills, Maryland training complex at 2:00 AM on March 29 because it was feared the franchise would be seized early the following morning. Workers loaded all of the team's belongings and the trucks left for Indianapolis. By 10:00 AM, the Colts were completely gone from Baltimore. Later that day the Maryland House of Delegates also passed the Eminent Domain bill by a vote of 103-19 and the legislation taking control of the Colts was sent to Maryland Governor Harry Hughes and signed.
Departing Maryland, each of the Mayflower trucks took a slightly different route on the way to Indianapolis. This was done to confuse the Maryland State Police, who could've been called on to put a stop to the move. Once each van was at the Indiana state line, it was met by Indiana State Police, who escorted each van to the Colts new home in Indianapolis. Later John Moag, Jr., chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, stated in sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee responsible for the Fan Freedom and Community Protection Act: "It was the failure of our local (Baltimore) and state elected officials in Maryland to provide the Colts with a firm proposal for a new stadium that led Mr. Irsay to accept an offer from Indianapolis to play in a new dome in that city."
Baltimore's Mayor Schaefer, who had been promised a call by Irsay if the team was to move (but never received one), appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Sun in tears. After the Colts left, and in spite of his earlier stance that the city of Baltimore would not build a new stadium, he placed the building of a new stadium at the top of his legislative agenda.
Indianapolis Mayor Hudnut held a press conference March 29 to announce an agreement had been reached and the team was on its way to Indianapolis. The deal was sealed March 30 with approval by the Capital Improvement Board, which operated the Hoosier Dome. Two days later, 20,000 new Colts fans cheered as Mayor Hudnut proclaimed March 29, 1984, "one of the greatest days in the history of this city."
Understandably, Colts fans in Baltimore were heartbroken. In elections that year, city voters repealed Question P by a measure of 62 percent to 38 percent. However, the amendment's author Hyman Pressman remained as an elected City Comptroller for 28 years (7 terms in a row) until retiring in 1991. The team's move triggered a flurry of legal activity, which ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court and bills were filed in both the U.S. House and Senate seeking to block the move. In December 1985, a U.S. District Court judge threw out the lawsuit which sought to return the team to Maryland, though the city of Baltimore was allowed to keep the Vince Lombardi Trophy that the Colts won in Super Bowl V.
The United States Football League reacted promptly to the move. The league's 1984 champions, the Philadelphia Stars, relocated to Baltimore for the 1985 season to capitalize on the departure of the Colts. Unfortunately for the Stars, the Colts, despite abandoning Memorial Stadium, were still able to block the Stars from using it, forcing the team to move to Byrd Stadium, roughly halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC. The rechristened "Baltimore Stars" won the 1985 championship as well. Had the USFL played its proposed fall season in 1986, Baltimore, by virtue of not being up against an NFL team in its market, would have been a part of it, but the league suspended operations and ultimately folded before the season could take place.
Representatives of Baltimore and the Colts organization reached a settlement in March 1986 in which all lawsuits regarding the relocation were dismissed, and the Colts would endorse a new NFL team for Baltimore. Unfortunately, the Irsay family refused to adhere to the deal and during the 1993 NFL expansion the Irsays endorsed Jacksonville and Carolina for expansion franchises. Because of the manner in which the Irsay family treated the City of Baltimore, all of the Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts chose to cut all ties to the relocated Colts team. Most notable and vocal among them was Johnny Unitas, who declared himself solely as a player for the Baltimore Colts until the day he died, with his estate defending that stance to this day. However, the NFL officially recognizes his achievements and records as the history of the Colts organization and as such are attributed to the current Colts organization and not any subsequent NFL team in Baltimore.
One aspect that would remain in Baltimore would be the Baltimore Colts Marching Band. According to an ESPN documentary directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson called "The Band That Wouldn't Die", band leaders got advance warning that the team was being moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis overnight and were able to remove their equipment from team headquarters before the moving vans arrived. At the time of the move, the band's uniforms were being dry-cleaned. Band President John Ziemann contacted the owner of the dry cleaners, who was sympathetic, told Ziemann where the uniforms were and offered to let Ziemann take the company van "for a walk." Ziemann and some associates then hid the uniforms in a nearby cemetery until the wife of then-Colts owner Robert Irsay said they could keep them. From 1984 until the NFL returned to Baltimore in 1996, the band stayed together, playing at football halftime shows and marching in parades, eventually becoming well-known as "Baltimore's Pro-Football Musical Ambassadors". The band remained an all-volunteer band as it is today and supported itself. At one point, John Ziemann pawned his wife's wedding ring for the money to buy new equipment.
When the Canadian Football League decided to expand into the United States, Baltimore was a natural selection for an American CFL team. The Baltimore Stallions were originally named the Baltimore CFL Colts, but an injunction by the NFL forced the name change to Stallions. The team moved to Montreal and became the current incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes when the NFL returned to Baltimore.
Ironically, the city of Baltimore would return to the NFL in a very similar manner that left Baltimore. On November 6, 1995, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced his intention to move the Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 NFL season. Like most other sports teams relocations including the relocation of the Colts, Modell had intended on keeping the Browns name, colors, history, trophies, archives, and other artifacts with him to Baltimore for the rechristened Baltimore Browns. However, subsequent lawsuits by the City of Cleveland led to a settlement that allowed Modell have a new team but move the current contracts of players and personnel to Baltimore while the Browns would officially suspend operations until the 1999 NFL season, in which the Browns would return as an expansion team, as the Browns' name, colors, history, records, awards and archives would remain in Cleveland (the last NFL team to completely suspend operations temporarily, coincidentally, was also a Cleveland team at the time: the Rams, who suspended operations for one year in 1943 because of World War II, later moved to Los Angeles and now are based in St. Louis). The team would subsequently become the Baltimore Ravens, and would later adopt the Colts Marching Band, which in 1998 was renamed Baltimore's Marching Ravens. While both the NFL and the Colts consider the Colts' Baltimore years as part of their history, the Ravens unofficially claim the 1953-1983 Colts years as their own, and retired Baltimore Colts players have adopted the Ravens as their team.
The Colts' final game in Baltimore was played on December 18, 1983 against the Houston Oilers. The Colts won 20-10. The Oilers would thirteen years later, play their final game before moving to Tennessee against the Baltimore Ravens at Memorial Stadium (the now-Tennessee Titans are currently one of the Colts' division rivals). The Colts would not play another game in Baltimore until 1998. Since then, the Colts have played in Baltimore several more times during the regular season (most recently in 2009). The teams have had two playoff matchups during that time, one in Baltimore (2006) and one in Indianapolis (2009), where in the 2006-07 playoffs, the Ravens hosted the Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game (2006) and Colts hosted Ravens in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game. The Colts won the 2006 game en route to their first Super Bowl win since moving to Indianapolis. The current rivalry between the two teams is one-sided in favor of the Colts (who lead the series 9-2, all-time), meaning much more to the fans and players of the city of Baltimore. In Indianapolis, a game against the Ravens is viewed as nothing more than a non-divisional game. When the Colts play a game in Baltimore the name Colts is not used. The Colts are introduced as the Indianapolis professional football team and referred to as Indy on the stadium scoreboards.
Although Baltimore is still bitter by the situation, most of the rest of the NFL had long since moved on. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, whose father Archie Manning was playing for the Minnesota Vikings at the time of the move, said in an interview for America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions after the Colts won Super Bowl XLI when focusing on the playoff game against the Ravens that he was eight years old when the Colts moved, that none of the current players had any connection to the former Baltimore team, and that Baltimore needs to move on.
The last Baltimore Colt who was active in the NFL—though he never suited up for the Colts—was John Elway, who infamously spurned the Colts after they selected him with the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft and subsequently traded his right to the Denver Broncos one week after the draft. Elway retired after winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos following the 1998 NFL season. It can be said that Elway spurning the Colts was another reason that led to the Colts moving the following year. Punter Rohn Stark was the last active Baltimore Colt who actually played for the team while in Baltimore, retiring after the 1997 NFL season.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Colts Stadium Rent To Rise. google.com. Retrieved on 2010-03-17.
- ↑ Colts May Build Own Stadium. google.com. Retrieved on 2010-03-17.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Descendants of the Mayflower by Michael Devitt. Members.tripod.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 E.M. Swift (1986-12-15). Getting a fix on Indianapolis Colts owner Bob Irsay's - 12.15.86 - SI Vault. Vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 GoogleBook: Glory For Sale. Books.google.com. 1972-08-15. http://books.google.com/books?id=u5sKmJItUF4C&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=baltodome&source=bl&ots=fTv7Wkhhyu&sig=4H91CQHhg2cnjz_kwDJzg6AO0So&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result. Retrieved 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Glory For Sale. Books.google.com. 1972-08-15. http://books.google.com/books?id=u5sKmJItUF4C&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=baltodome&source=bl&ots=fTyfZd9bqB&sig=0b7Cgxx4stnW-ztkq5gKF9k1IdI&hl=en&ei=2zOiS5rEKsX_lgeRw9nlCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=11&ved=0CCgQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=baltodome&f=false. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Playing the Field: Why Sports Teams ... - Google Books. Books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=d6ySz8psnPMC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA108&ots=1s8HS-ZljZ&dq=phoenix+negotiations+colts&output=html. Retrieved 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 RCA Dome nears last game - 13 WTHR - Indianapolis News |. Wthr.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ http://www.stadiumsofnfl.com/past/MemorialStadium.htm Stadiums of the NFL — Memorial Stadium
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 Colt’s Irsay reportedly leaning towards Phoenix. google.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ SPORTS PEOPLE; New Talks on Colts. New York Times (1984-02-28). Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 Descendants of the Mayflower - A History of the Indianapolis Colts. Members.tripod.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Indianapolis Colts History. .indystar.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ Ackermann, Guy. Moving the Company. Siteselection.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ "The Greatest Game Ever Played" documentary on ESPN, 2008-12-13
- ↑ Now they’re the Indianapolis Colts. google.com. Retrieved on 2010-03-17.
- ↑ No. 76 Should Congress Stop the Bidding War for Sports Franchises? Volume 3: Municipal Authorities - by Congressional testimony - Policy Studies. Heartland.org (1995-11-29). Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ The Next Mayor Is...: ...Out There Somewhere. Who Wants the Job, And Who Could Actually Win It? | Baltimore City Paper. Citypaper.com. Retrieved on 2010-02-07.
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 "The Band That Wouldn't Die". Directed by Barry Levinson, Severn River Productions
- ↑ John Ziemann biography http://www.ravensband.org/direction.html
- ↑ America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts