CultureSaturday 04.02.22

The Colts Bolt From Baltimore

It was the night that Colts fans will (bitterly) never forget. On March 28, 1984, 15 moving trucks from Mayflower Transit, an Indiana-based moving company, arrived at the Colts facility at around 10 p.m. Eight hours later, the Colts were gone from Baltimore and bound for their new home in Indianapolis.

The move was a terrible blow to one of the most die-hard fandoms in the league, which had staunchly supported the Colts since 1953 and had seen it win NFL championships in 1958 and 1959 — and a Super Bowl in 1970.

But the Colts played in Memorial Stadium, one of the worst facilities in the league. When the irascible Robert Irsay took over the franchise in 1972, he lobbied the city of Baltimore hard to build him a new venue. In 1974, Baltimore’s comptroller placed an amendment to the city’s charter on the fall ballot that prohibited the use of city funds for construction of a new stadium. And when the measure passed, the writing was on the wall.

Irsay spent eight years openly flirting with other cities, looking for the most profitable deal to move his franchise. Eventually, Indianapolis, with a new domed stadium at the ready, presented him with the best one. On March 2nd, 1984, NFL owners voted to allow Irsay to move the Colts to the city of his choosing. The Maryland Senate countered by passing legislation on March 27th that gave Baltimore the right to seize ownership of the Colts by eminent domain.

Fearing that he could lose his team, Irsay accepted the terms of the Indianapolis offer the next day. The mayor of Indianapolis, William Hudnut, immediately got involved. He called his friend, the CEO of Mayflower Transit, to get the blitz move underway.

Heartbroken Baltimore fans ultimately repealed that city amendment so that public funds could be used to build a new stadium. And in 1995, football returned to Baltimore; the city lured the Cleveland Browns franchise, renaming it the Ravens, and built a brand new sports complex that opened in 1998. The Ravens have been one of the league’s most successful franchises, making the playoffs 13 times and winning Super Bowls in 2001 and 2013. But for many fans and observers, the dramatic events of 1984 stand as the most notorious franchise move in NFL history.

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