Monday, November 28, 2005

Colts - Steelers 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a Bears post on Tigerhawk. This prompts a little commentary on the the NFL and history, as it intersected with my youth. TH and the Villain grew up in the midwest, hence their interest in Iowa collegiate football and Illinois professional football. Those teams have been there for eons and aren't going anywhere.

I was a little less fortunate. Growing up in Owings Mills, Maryland, we had the O's and the Colts. But I am a football guy, and I missed the Colts glory days. Johnny Unitas was finishing his career in a Charger uniform - ugh --by the time I was tuning in. The Colts quarterbacks in my first year of fandom were -- are you ready -- Marty Domres and Bill Troupe. That's worse than the Jets current predicament. It led to a 2 - 12 season and a significant retooling. But I loved them no matter what.

And in 1975, something remarkable happened. A pretty young Ted Marchibroda took over, and handed the QB job to Bert Jones -- an early and poor man's John Elway. He was a big boy from Louisiana who was hard to bring down and had a cannon. He in turn would hand the ball to Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris's lesser known running mate at Penn State. And he had some targets to throw to --Rodger Carr (the father of the the current Houston Texans QB, David Carr), Glenn Doughty and Raymond Chester.

The defensive side of the ball was outstanding - with a line that was competitive with the best in football. Cook, Dutton, Ehrmann and Barnes. The backs and linebackers weren't hall of famers, but all were tough and capable - Stan White stood out at inside LB (Mike Curtis was gone by then).

As it happens, in 1975, the Colts were off to a very slow start -- but turned it all around at Soldier Field against Da Bears, no less. They went on to win 10 in a row and make the playoffs by beating the Dolphins with a Toni Linhart field goal in the fog, on the last play of the regular season. That's how I remember it anyway -- and I maybe wrong -- but I was 8 and it was unbelievably exciting.

Of course, the Colts could never muster the juice to get past the Steelers in the playoffs, and it was the Steelers who were the ones to build the incredible dynasty of the 1970s, the first 4 time Super Bowl winners. After one playoff loss to the Steelers, a small plane crashed into the upper deck at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Had the Colts won, I am sure many people would have perished in the celebration after the game. As it happened, the Colts loss meant the stadium was empty. It was as though the Colts loss had been preordained for the good of humanity. In 1977, the Colts peaked, taking the Raiders to overtime in an epic divisional playoff game still shown on ESPN Classic. Jones missed a wide open Chester deep down the field late for what undoubtedly would have set up a Colt victory. No dice. Raiders win, Colts done. When I see this game on ESPN Classic, even now, I always hope Jones brought it down just a little and Chester can leap to make the catch. It still makes me sick to see it. The next year, Jones hurt his shoulder in preseason, and it was all downhill from there.

And in 1984, after several dismal seasons (and John Elway's rejection of Baltimore after the team selected him #1), Robert Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis, a midnight heist from which Baltimore didn't recover until the Browns/Ravens, themselves escapees from Cleveland, brought a Super Bowl championship back to Baltimore.

So tonight, when the undefeated Indy Colts take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the uniforms will recall a forgotten time and mean different things to people. Most Baltimoreans detest the Colts -- though as time passed, so did Irsay, and Baltimore adopted Art Modell's Browns/Ravens. The hate exists mostly among the older crowd -- those who still remember Unitas, Berry and Moore, Ewbank and Shula. Just watch Diner if you want to understand the intensity of an older generation of Baltimorean feeling for the Colts. For the middle aged, who only had Jones and Mitchell and Ehrmann, who have seen the Browns and Raiders move and understand football is a business, maybe some of us will pull for the Colts, for the uniform. Peyton Manning is the kind of guy you root for, who's a good role model for your kids. Tony Dungy is a class coach. It's been easier to root for that uniform since Bob Irsay has been gone. Can you imagine if Elway comes to Baltimore and the team stays? And Manning is Elway's heir? That would have been something to see in Baltimore for the last 21 years.

Colts by 10. And they should win Super Bowl 40 too.

UPDATE 11/29 8am:

The Colts win handily 26 - 7. Peyton Manning's offense is inconsistent early, with a critical interception allowing Pittsburgh to stay close until late in the first half. However, Indy's defense, fortified by Bob Hitman Sanders (yes, an Iowa Hawkeye) dominates the Steelers - no running game, no passing game, no nothing. Indy commits several costly penalties, but Pittsburgh makes some very questionable decisions - 2 head scratching fourth down calls and an unsuccessful onsides kick to start the second half. The Pittsburgh coaching staff played desperately and impatiently. Indy's offensive explosiveness, as revealed on their first play from scrimmage, coupled with their capacity to grind it out with Edgerrin James, and backed up by an increasingly explosive defense, is making opposing coaches flip out.

Tough schedule ahead, but undefeated is not impossible.

A reaction to some of the comments: though from Baltimore, I moved away at 18 and so did my family. So I may have left behind some of the passionate hatred locals feel even today for these Colts. As a diaspora Baltimorean, I find that the uniform means more than geography -- with the caveat that I detested Bob Irsay and his death made it possible to have an interest in the Indy Colts. Baltimore is a football town, and I think they love their Ravens. It helped the Ravens a lot that the old Colts adopted Modell's team early...Unitas was a regular as were many others. So I would not discount Baltimore passion for the Ravens. Some of my old firends would say there is more passion for them than the O's. One commenter correctly observed that the Browns did the right thing when they moved -- leaving the colors and name for the next Cleaveland franchise. It is a shame that the grotesque Irsay didn't make a similar agreement in 1984 so Baltimore's new team could have adopted the same colors.

Nonetheless, these Colts are quite a club. Look out '72 Dolphins...


By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Mon Nov 28, 09:34:00 AM:

CP, I cannot believe you would put up a Colts post on this site without paying due homage to Bob "hitman" Sanders, and emerging tight-end Dallas Clark. Clearly without these two Hawkeyes they would not be enjoying their current run!  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Mon Nov 28, 01:19:00 PM:

I feel the soul of a true fan in your post. Watching that game on ESPN Classics is like a Raiders fan watching the Immaculate Reception game. Agonizing, but you just can't turn your head away.

It pains me to say this, but:

Steelers by 9.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 28, 02:01:00 PM:

I for one am a mid 40s Baltimoran, who never saw Johnny U live, but enjoyed the late year Colts. I actually seem to become physically ill when I see the team in Indiana wearing those unis. Many of my peers, who you can find down the stadium on Sundays, are actually very sympathetic to the Cleveland history with Modell. Somehow, Modell had the sense to leave the uniform and history in Cleveland. we now have the old Browns franchise in Baltimore, but under a new name. Here's wishing Irsay had left the blue horseshoe in the Queen City of the Patapsco.

By Anonymous rr, at Mon Nov 28, 08:18:00 PM:

Interesting post. I am an avid online gambler and fantasy sports player and place most of my bets online. I find the internet to be a great tool and even use resources like StatShark to help me make my picks. What a great sports forecastings tool.  

By Blogger SportsProf, at Mon Nov 28, 10:52:00 PM:

Eloquent post, Cardinalpark, and I'm glad you have positive memories of your Colts. You are a magnanimous native Baltimorean, and you're right both about Manning and Dungy. But most Baltimoreans would rather see the Colts franchise go bankrupt and become the Arizona Cardinals (or even the now-pathetic Detroit Lions) than vie for a Super Bowl. I also think that the average native Baltimorean had a somewhat empty joy when the Ravens won the Super Bowl; sure, they were happy that a hometown team won the championship, but it wasn't the Colts.  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Tue Nov 29, 12:33:00 PM:

Never mind.  

By Anonymous Dennis, at Wed Mar 15, 10:08:00 PM:

I have been a Colts fan since I was born. My great uncle had season tickets since the inception of the team. I attended the infamous plane crash game as well as the double ot loss to the raiders, which still is the second longest game in nfl history. Unitas was the best EVER and forever. His leadership by example has never been matched, nor do I believe it ever will. It is a shame what the nfl did to him as he single handedly made the nfl what it is today. Although I still love the ravens, nothing will ever come close to the glory days of the Colts. As for the nfl, if it folded tomorrow,it wouldn't bother me a bit, because of how they treated my hero, Johnny U. As for Irsay, I hope his soul is burning in eternal damnation. BTW, just to help your memory, the last game of the 75 season the Colts beat the pats, I was at that game too.  

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