Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
The Baltimore Colts left their home on March 28, 1984 to start a new era as the Indianapolis Colts. Irsay, Robert Irsay that is, moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. Many will never forget the image of the Mayflower moving trucks pulling out under the cover of night as the sleeping city of Baltimore was unaware. As the city awoke the next morning they were in shock and tears and they had discovered that their beloved Colts were gone forever.
Many Baltimore fans still hold a special place in their hearts for the resentment of the Colts and for Bob Irsay. Fans in Baltimore will tell of how Irsay was sneaky and pulled an evil trick on them by the way that he left town. Was Irsay being sneaky? Was he in the wrong? Why exactly did the Colts franchise move to Indianapolis? Why did they do it so quickly in the middle of the night?
To understand that I believe that we must look back at the Colts while they were still in Baltimore.
At the time the Colts found their home at Memorial Stadium. Like other NFL teams have done in the past the Colts had to share their stadium with another team, the Baltimore Orioles.
Many fans loved the stadium that had been standing since 1950. It was full of nostalgia and memories. They could still see the likeness of Johnny Unitas throwing a winning touchdown. Robert Irsay saw something else.
When Robert Irsay looked at Memorial Stadium he saw many of the problems of playing in a stadium that was old enough to be it’s own memorial. He complained about having to share a stadium with another team. He complained about the office spaces and the plumbing. Other players complained about the field condition and the locker rooms.
Irsay also wanted to charge fans to watch preseason games. This was something other teams were doing as well at the time. He also wanted to move the game times from 2:00 pm to 1:00 pm, which all NFL teams eventually did.
Irsay began negotiations with the city of Baltimore to try to use tax dollars to build a new stadium. Hyman Pressman was the man who stood in his way. Pressman was the comptroller for the city of Baltimore. He was responsible for the infamous “Question P.”
Question P was an amendment that prevented the city from using government funds for the purposes of building a new stadium.
Irsay and the city went back and forth. Each claimed that the other was acting in bad faith. Each accused the other of changing conditions of their negotiations. Robert Irsay eventually had enough and began speaking to other cities about the potential of moving one of the most popular teams in the NFL.
In the early months of 1984 it was becoming clear that Robert Irsay, despite his denials, was going to move the Colts franchise. The two cities that he was giving serious consideration to were Phoenix, AZ and Indianapolis, IN.
On March 27, 1984 the Maryland State Senate attempted to use eminent domain over the Colts headquarters and the franchise. They knew that the Colts were going to leave and they were going to make every effort to stop Irsay, even if that meant taking away his power over the franchise.
Irsay caught wind of this misuse of political powers. Robert Irsay was not a man who liked to be bullied around. He much more enjoyed being the bully. He knew that time was short and a move had to be made. Why Indianapolis over Phoenix? A few years prior to these events, the city of Indianapolis had built the Hoosier Dome in an attempt to attract a professional football team. Phoenix had only promises and Irsay couldn’t move all the files and furniture into promises. Indianapolis had won the bid even before they knew there was a move.
Irsay called the Mayor of Indianapolis and told him that they would be moving immediately. The mayors neighbor happened to be the owner of the Mayflower moving company and offered his services free of charge. By the time Baltimore’s mayor could sign the bill to take over the Colts, the team was already safe within the state lines of Indiana.
A New Era
The Baltimore Colts had declined as a franchise during their final years there. Attendance had dropped with the teams performance. A new city, a new stadium and a new look brought the hopes of a winning franchise once again.
It wasn’t until 1987 that the Colts saw the playoffs again and not until the mid 1990’s when they started to be looked at as true contenders consistently.
Whether you believe that Irsay was in the wrong or in the right doesn’t really matter. The truth is that the Colts move to Indianapolis was good for the Colts and probably even better for the city of Indianapolis. What was Baltimore’s loss became Indianapolis’ gain. The Colts and Indianapolis would never be the same again.