History of the Baltimore Colts

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"Baltimore Colts" redirects here. For the franchise that existed from 1947 to 1950, see Baltimore Colts (1947–50). For the Canadian Football League team, see Baltimore Stallions. For other uses, see Baltimore Colts (disambiguation).
Baltimore Colts
Baltimore Colts logo
Founded 1953
Based in Baltimore, Maryland
League National Football League
Conference Western Conference (1953–1969)
American Football Conference (1970–1983)
Division Coastal Division (1967–1969)
AFC East (1970–1983)
Team history Baltimore Colts (1953–1983)
Relocated to Indianapolis (1984)
Team colors Blue, White
Head coaches Keith Molesworth (1953)
Weeb Ewbank (1954–1962)
Don Shula (1963–1969)
Don McCafferty (1970–1972)
John Sandusky (1972)
Howard Schnellenberger (1973–1974)
Joe Thomas (1974)
Ted Marchibroda (1975–1979)
Mike McCormack (1980–1981)
Frank Kush (1982–1983)
Owner(s) Carroll Rosenbloom (1953–1972)
Robert Irsay (1972–1984)
Named for In honor of the Baltimore's history of horse breeding and racing
Home field(s) Memorial Stadium (1953–1983)

The professional American football franchise currently known as the Indianapolis Colts was originally based in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1953 to 1983. This article chronicles the franchise's history during its time as the Baltimore Colts. Named in honor of Baltimore's history of horse breeding and racing (including the Preakness Stakes, one of the events in the U.S. Triple Crown championship series), this was the second incarnation of the "Baltimore Colts" after the first one played from 1947 to 1950. The 1953-83 Baltimore Colts team played its home games at Memorial Stadium during its entire tenure in Baltimore before the franchise relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana, in March 1984.

Franchise history[edit]

The Baltimore Colts were one of the first NFL teams to have cheerleaders, a marching band and a team "fight song" (along with the nearby Washington Redskins, forty miles southwest in the nation's capital).[1] The Baltimore Colts were named after Baltimore's 142-year-old annual "Preakness Stakes", a premier thoroughbred horse racing event, second jewel of the famous "Triple Crown" championship series of the sport. The third, most famous Baltimore Colts pro football franchise was officially created in 1953, but can trace its history much earlier than that, to before the NFL itself actually began in 1920: its earliest predecessor was the old Dayton Triangles, a founding member of the reorganized and renamed National Football League of 1922, (from the old American Professional Football Conference, later renamed A.P.F. Association a few months later in 1920) that was originally created in 1913. Because of the link to the ancient Dayton Triangles, the Baltimore Colts can arguably claim to have played and won, on October 3, 1920, what could be considered the very first A.P.F.A./N.F.L. professional football game, with a 14-0 defeat of the rival Columbus Panhandles at Triangle Park in Dayton, Ohio. The team went through the following changes:

  • Dayton Triangles pro football team relocated to New York City to the Borough of Brooklyn, New York and was renamed Brooklyn Dodgers (separate from the more famous Brooklyn Dodgers of major league baseball's National League) in 1930.
  • Changed name to Brooklyn Tigers in 1944. In the same year, the Boston Yanks are founded.
  • Merged with Boston Yanks in 1945 as the World War II-era war-time "The Yanks".
  • Brooklyn franchise canceled in 1945 by the League and the team's players were given to the Boston Yanks, as a parallel team, the (New York Yankees of the new competing post-war All-America Football Conference - A.A.F.C.) is founded by the Tigers' former owner, Dan Topping.
  • Miami Seahawks of the A.A.F.C. are folded and replaced in the Conference's second season by a new franchise in Baltimore given the name of the "Colts" after a name selection contest among the new Baltimore fans. The Colts later joined the reorganized N.F.L. in 1950, following the merger of the A.A.F.C. with the older league, along with the addition of teams San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns. This second Baltimore Colts franchise was later dissolved by the NFL for financial reasons after only the one 1950 season on January 18, 1951.
  • Boston Yanks were canceled upon request of the team owner for tax purposes. The owner was given a new franchise for New York City in 1949, now named the New York Bulldogs. The name was then changed to the New York Yanks the following season in 1950. The Yanks absorbed much of the previous football Yankees' roster the next year.
  • New York Yanks of the NFL were canceled after the one 1951 season and replaced in 1952 by the Dallas Texans, with the first expansion of the League into high school and collegiate football crazy Texas and first into the southern part of the United States.
  • Texans owner returned the team leadership to the League ownership of the NFL during mid-season. The Texans become a "road" team halfway through the 1952 season with no "home base", playing only "away" games and folded after the one 1952 season.
  • Dallas Texans franchise was sold to Baltimore civic and sports interests led by Carroll Rosenbloom on January 23, 1953, where a new team was established resurrecting the previous well-liked "Colts" nickname, they however replaced the old AAFC/NFL team colors of silver and green with the Texans' team colors of blue and white (also coincidentally used by the later NFL second expansion team in 1960 of the iconic Dallas Cowboys, along with silver).

AAFC Baltimore Colts[edit]

As the result of a fan contest in Baltimore, won by Charles Evans of Middle River in suburban eastern Baltimore County, the team was renamed the "Baltimore Colts". On September 7, 1947, wearing the green and silver uniforms, the Colts, under Head Coach Cecil Isbell, won their initial All-America Football Conference game in the A.A.F.C.'s second season, 16–7, over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Home site for the new AAFC games in "The Monumental City" was the old 1922 Municipal Stadium (also known as "Baltimore Stadium" or "Venable Stadium" - located in previous Venable Park) on the north side of 33rd Street boulevard in northeast Baltimore, later renovated and rebuilt with an upper tier added the following year for use also by the new American League of major league baseball's relocated franchise, the Baltimore Orioles). The football team concluded its inaugural season before a record Baltimore crowd of 51,583 by losing to the New York Yankees, 21–7. The Colts finished with a 2–11–1 record, good for a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Division of the A.A.F.C. The Colts completed the 1948 season with a 7–8 record, tying the Buffalo Bills for the division title. The Colts compiled a 1–11 mark in their third season of 1949. Y. A. Tittle, later to gain additional hall of fame status a decade later with the NFL's New York Giants was the Colts starting quarterback.

After four years of inter-league rivalry, competition, and player contract raiding, the A.A.F.C. and N.F.L. merged in 1950, and the Colts joined the reorganized new NFL, along with the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns. After posting a 1–11 record for the second consecutive year, the NFL franchise of just one season was dissolved by the League on January 18, 1951. But many Baltimore fans protested the loss of their team and continued to support the marching band (the second in professional football, after that of the Washington Redskins) and fan club, both of which remained in operation ("in exile" status) and worked for the team's revival.

NFL Dallas Texans[edit]

After two seasons without professional football, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, (1895-1959), challenged the City of Baltimore under Mayor Thomas L.J. D'Alesandro, Jr., (1903-1987), in December 1952 to sell 15,000 season tickets within six weeks in order to re-enter the NFL. That 15,000-ticket quota was reached in just four weeks and three days. On January 23, 1953, with the encouragement of the City's civic and business leadership, under the principal ownership of Carroll Rosenbloom, (1907-1979), the NFL sold Dallas Texans franchise to Baltimore where, keeping the “Colts” nickname, the Texans team colors of blue and white were inherited. This is the franchise that exists today in Indianapolis in the modern National Football League.[2]

In Baltimore[edit]

In 1953, the second incarnation of the Baltimore Colts took the field for the first time ever at Memorial Stadium, (then also used temporarily by the old Baltimore Orioles minor league team in the International League since the burning in July 1944 of their Oriole Park home farther southeast at Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street in Waverly. The newly renamed Memorial field was being rebuilt and adding a second upper tier to old Municipal Stadium for use by the following year of the major league baseball's Baltimore Orioles franchise in the American League, relocated that November from St. Louis, Missouri as the St. Louis Browns. The 33rd Street field also then sometimes known as "Baltimore Stadium" or "Venable Stadium" for its location in the former Venable Park along the north side of the 33rd Street boulevard, constructed originally as a football-only bowl in 1922 in only seven months and later capable of holding almost 100,000 fans for the frequent high school and local collegiate/university games there during the following three decades), on September 27 to face off against the Chicago Bears. The Colts would go on to win the game 13–9 and stun the Bears. The team's lack of experience showed as the team finished 3–9. In 1955, the Colts had 12 rookies make the team. In 1956, quarterback George Shaw went down with a serious injury in the fourth game of the season. The Colts' unproven backup, Johnny Unitas, would go on to win half the remaining eight games to give the Colts a record of 5–7 for the season.

The Colts won the NFL Championship in 1958 and repeated in 1959. The 1958 NFL Championship game is widely known as the "Greatest Game Ever Played" for its dramatic conclusion with quarterback Johnny Unitas marching the Colts downfield in sudden death overtime and Alan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run. Much of the credit for Baltimore's success went to Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas, halfback Lenny Moore, and wide receiver Raymond Berry.

Baltimore returned to the NFL championship game in 1964 but lost to the Cleveland Browns 27–0. In 1968, Unitas was injured and replaced by Earl Morrall who became the league's MVP. The 1968 Colts won their division with a 13–1 record and won the NFL championship game 34–0 over the Browns. The Colts' season ended with a shocking upset loss to the AFL New York Jets in Super Bowl III at the Miami Orange Bowl.

In 1970, the merger of the 16-team National Football League and the 10-team American Football League was finally completed with on-field realignment to create two 13-team "conferences" within the expanded 26-team NFL. All ten teams previously in the AFL were placed in the American Football Conference. Thirteen of the sixteen teams previously in the NFL were retained in the National Football Conference, but three old NFL teams (the Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cleveland Browns) were placed in the American Football Conference in order to equalize the two conferences.

The Colts against Dallas in their first Super Bowl championship (V).

That same year the Colts, still led by Johnny Unitas, won the AFC East Division title with a record of 11–2–1. In Super Bowl V the Colts won a close, low-scoring game against the Dallas Cowboys. With nine seconds left in the game placekicker Jim O'Brien kicked the game winning field goal which gave Baltimore its first Super Bowl championship. The next season, in 1971, the defense of the Colts gave up only 140 points in 14 regular season games. They won their opening playoff game against the Browns 20-3, but lost in the second AFC Championship Game in Miami 21-0. The Colts fortunes declined for the 1972 through 1974 seasons. However led by new quarterback Bert Jones and running back Lydell Mitchell, they won division titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977 (going 29-4 in one stretch, regular season only), but each time lost in the playoffs to the defending Super Bowl Champions. Following this relative success in the 1970s, the Colts suffered a string of disappointing seasons, often finishing in last place in their division. Attendance began to dwindle in the early 1970s and remained that way for the rest of the team's tenure in Baltimore.

The move to Indianapolis[edit]

The city of Indianapolis, Indiana, made an offer for the Colts franchise to move there. Baltimore was unsuccessful at persuading them to stay, so the city government attempted to get the state legislature to condemn the Colts franchise and give ownership to another group that would promise to keep the Colts in Baltimore. Oakland, California had just had some success in court trying the same tactic with the Oakland Raiders. Under the threat of eminent domain from the city of Baltimore, the franchise relocated to Indianapolis in the middle of the night on March 29, 1984. The city of Baltimore did not give up and sued to condemn the franchise anyway and seize ownership. Baltimore did not prevail in court,[3] but eventually acquired a new NFL team in 1996 with the establishment of the Baltimore Ravens following the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy.

Baltimore Colts vs. Indianapolis Colts[edit]

The NFL treats the Baltimore Colts and the Indianapolis Colts (including logos, history, and records) as one continuous franchise from 1953 to the present. Despite this, former Baltimore Colts players, led by Johnny Unitas, disowned the Colts franchise after the move to Indianapolis, instead choosing to remain loyal to the City of Baltimore. These former players embraced the new Baltimore Ravens franchise when it arrived in Baltimore in 1996.[4][5][6] The Ravens responded by adding some of these players to the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor. The Ravens officially have no retired numbers,[7] but out of respect for Unitas, only quarterback Scott Mitchell has worn the number 19, which he did in his lone season in Baltimore in 1999. The Baltimore Colts Marching Band, which continued to operate after the Colts moved, became Baltimore's Marching Ravens.

Although the retired numbers of the Indianapolis Colts officially includes Unitas and others dating back to the Baltimore days,[7] the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor currently only includes players who have played in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Colts have issued these nominally retired jersey numbers before. [8]