I have a blue briefcase that bears the name "Baltimore Colts" in white letters along the outside. It was given to me in the press box of old Memorial Stadium back in 1983, the Colts' last season in Baltimore. I don't know why they were passing out briefcases – it must've been "Briefcase Day" – but it was a nice enough satchel to keep and I took it home, filled it with some junk and stuck it on a shelf.
Some years later, one of my boys saw the briefcase and asked me why it said "Baltimore" on the outside. I told him the story about being in the press box that day in Baltimore to cover a Colts game when the briefcase was given to me. He asked, "Why were the Colts playing in Baltimore, Dad?"
I can't remember what my answer was. He was too young for me to have explained about franchise free agency and how one of the great standards in professional football history was stolen in the middle of the night by pirates in moving vans. Maybe I'll call him tonight and tell him all of that.
The Baltimore Colts: Are you old enough to remember? Does the name have any meaning to you? Is there any chance you were watching that day when the TV picture went blank? I'm talking about the NFL's model franchise of the late-1950's and through the '60's. The Colts were the Colts before the Packers were the Packers, and they were the Baltimore Colts. To have thought of them as anything else would've been a sacrilege.
Imagine the Indianapolis Packers or Indianapolis Steelers. It's the same thing.
I still have that briefcase. It's in a box under the steps, behind all of that Christmas crap my wife just put back. You know, I'm gonna send her back in there and have her dig out that briefcase. Yes, sir, I want it with me this Saturday when I watch the Colts-Ravens playoff game. I want it sittin' right next to me on the couch when Ray and the boys get Baltimore fans the revenge they deserve.
Oh, baby, Colts fans are gonna hate me now. Tough! I don't like thieves. This one's been a long time comin'.
Mike Preston penned a poignant column in the "Baltimore Sun" on Wednesday. Preston isn't too young. He remembers.
"Didn't the move from Baltimore to Indianapolis happen almost 23 years ago? Can't they just get over it and move on?" Preston asks.
Here's more of Preston's column. I'm sure he won't mind.
*"For the most part, we have moved on. But we'll never forget. And we don't need stiff-haired, fake-smiling sportscasters and transplanted out-of-towners telling us what to do with our lives. A Baltimore native can tell me about the old Colts, and I'll listen. We can exchange ideas. Anybody else can shut up and take a hike.
"We're all not dead yet, so we remember the Colts.
"The Colts entertained us on Sundays with Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Mike Curtis and Gino Marchetti, and ate dinner with us the rest of the week. They lived among us, and during the offseasons they worked in town as truck drivers or furniture movers. They owned restaurants and bowling alleys, and greeted us at the front door.
"And then on a snowy night on March 29, 1984, Robert Irsay pulled his team out of Baltimore. What took decades to create was gone, in the hours it took to load a couple of Mayflower moving vans.
"And, according to outsiders, we're supposed to 'get over it.' Forget the feelings, forget the passion, and get over it. That's reportedly what one national commentator said early last week about a possible Colts vs. Ravens matchup. Another commentator reportedly chimed in: 'Most of those people are dead.' Newsflash: Not yet, pal. And stick it in your ear hole.
"Pardon us if we get excited. Excuse us if we make it personal because the team that left here almost 23 years ago is coming back to hostile territory. It doesn't get much better than that. Well, it does. If the Colts lose, it would make a lot of us 'old-timers' happy again.
"And, then maybe we just might 'get over it.'
"Nah. Never,"* Preston wrote.
If Ray Lewis truly is the heart and soul of professional football in Baltimore, he'll play this Saturday as he has never played before. Lewis and the Ravens aren't playing for a berth in the AFC title game, they're playing in the name and for the honor of Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. The Ravens will be playing for what was and what still should be.
This one isn't about the money. This one's about the heart.