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The Dirtiest Trick Ever Played – The Baltimore Colts move to Indianapolis

baltimore colts

The Colts’ move to Indianapolis is a fascinating story. From a team who was part and parcel of the everyday culture of the city they represent, the Baltimore Colts were a team that was in touch with their city. Everyone knew everyone. Before the huge salaries, the players worked part time in the city, owned local businesses and the people of the city were linked in some way. The people were proud of their team. A rainy night late in March 1984 while the city slept, the team packed up and left for Indianapolis. This left the city heartbroken and depressed. It was like the soul of the city was taken. Although now Baltimore has a team in the city, which has been more successful since the Colts left, the scars remain. How a team represented everything that Baltimore stood for disappeared into a memory.

By the time the Eighties rolled around the Baltimore Colts wasn’t the powerhouse they once were. Gone were the days of legendary players Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore. The 1958 championship game that changed football was now a distant memory.  The team had been struggling in the NFL for some time. Having not reached the playoffs for six years. The fans started to stray away as the team was struggling with only 20,000 fans in a 61,000-seater stadium. Robert Irsay who owned the team at the time was shopping the team out to other cities including Phoenix, Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida.

Irsay who bought the team in a trade with Carroll Rosenbloom for the LA Rams plus 3 million in 1972, always had a rocky relationship with the Baltimore press and the city council. Irsay’s short temper always put him in disrepute with these parties. The fans weren’t warm with him either as they blamed him for the loss of the glory days and called him a drunk. Irsay was always looking to build a new stadium in Baltimore, with the old one being long in the tooth and shared with the baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles. This bought tension between the two teams as there wasn’t enough space for them.

The city of Baltimore created a committee to try and come up with a stadium solution but to no avail.  As Irsay wanted the tax payers to pay for the stadium and not enough funds could be allocated to build a new stadium, the relationship started to deteriorate significantly between Irsay and Baltimore. The Fans were getting worried that they were losing their team. And they were right to.

As late as January 1984, Irsay guaranteed the team would not be leaving Baltimore. As there was no agreement on any new stadium in Baltimore and reports of Irsay visiting Indianapolis’ brand-new Hoosier Dome the loyal Baltimore fans were starting to worry.

The Maryland Senate had given the city of Baltimore to seize the team from Irsay on March 27th, 1984. The time for action was now. Irsay had 48 hours before the repot men come for the team. If he was to move the team as some people thought, but had stated he wouldn’t, it would have to be done quickly.

After the judgement was called there wasn’t any statement from the Colts office. Irsay was being unusually quiet. It seemed he had settled with the decision. Or so we thought, as soon as he could get to a phone he called the then mayor of Indianapolis, William Hudnut, to tell him the team were coming. Irsay needed Hudnut’s help though. No moving company in Baltimore would help Irsay move the team out of the city. As mentioned earlier the team was part and parcel of daily life in Baltimore. Luckily for Irsay the next-door neighbour of Hudnut was an executive of a haulage company and despatched a fleet of trucks to the training complex of the Colts.

On the 28th March at 10pm the first of the haulage trucks arrived to take out the important documents of the Baltimore Colts. The truck needed to get past the state line of Maryland before midnight to make the move official. As they did the Baltimore Colts were no more and the Indianapolis Colts were formed. Within hours of the move the senate gave the city authority to repossess but it was too late. Irsay had got across the state line. With no warning the team that a city loved was being ripped away. No one could believe what they were seeing. By the time the morning of the 29th of March came around anything that wasn’t nailed down was gone. Everyone was in shock. The Mayor of Baltimore was on TV the next day almost in tears stating he would not let Irsay get away with this. There was nothing that could be done. The move has been since called the dirtiest trick ever played.

The people of Baltimore were enraged and upset. Johnny Unitas appeared on the news condemning the newly formed Indianapolis Colts. The representatives of Baltimore complained to the NFL about the move but wouldn’t help the city. This was due to the multi million dollar lawsuit that the NFL served against Al Davis and the Raiders move from Oakland to Los Angeles. Baltimore tried to use everything in their power to stop the move from finalizing but there was no way to do so. For the first time since 1953 there was no football in Baltimore.

To this day residents of Baltimore have resentment for the dirtiest trick ever played. They may have had a new team since in Baltimore, but the scars remain. What hurt them more was for years that Indianapolis colts took the history of Baltimore’s team the back to back titles of 1958 & 59. Their Superbowl V victory all gone. To add insult to injury the team kept the blue and white kit the team was associated with.  To this day the NFL still recognizes the colts under one united team.

It wasn’t until 1996 Baltimore was given a franchise in the NFL. After the 12 years absence in the NFL Baltimore were back. The Ravens, which were named after the Baltimore resident Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, have had a better time in the NFL than the Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens have won two Superbowls since their formation whereas the Colts since the move in 1984 have only one Superbowl win.

At the start of the 2018 NFL season it will be the Colts 34th in Indianapolis. The audacity Robert Irsay had to move a whole team overnight is one of the strangest stories in NFL folklore. A team that meant so much to people disappearing as they slept does seem so diabolical that it almost sounds unbelievable. The impact was such a game changer for both teams. A city up on the rise as Indianapolis looking to gain some recognition as a player in the big city and a city as Baltimore that was a hardworking white-collar town. Maybe it was the two cities overtaking each other in progression. Whatever it was, it’s safe to say that stories like this are what make the NFL intriguing.  


This OTI piece has been written by Jimmy Whitehead. Jimmy is from Essex, England. He is a New England Patriots Fan and has been a fan for over 10 years.  Jimmy is also currently working on a diploma in Journalism.      



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