March 29: The Colts Leave Baltimore

Colts MoveJust before dawn on March 29, 1984 the Baltimore Colts football team fled out of town under the cover of darkness, taking all of the team’s equipment to Indianapolis in a fleet of Mayflower moving vans.

Since the early 1970s, Colts owner Robert Irsay had asked that the city of Baltimore provide a new (at least partially) publicly funded stadium for his privately owned football team. The city and state of Maryland refused to give Irsay as much as he wanted, and Irsay began shopping the team around to other cities. On March 27, 1984, the Maryland Senate passed legislation allowing Baltimore to seize ownership of the team via eminent domain. The next day Irsay quickly made a deal with the city of Indianapolis and in the early hours of March 29 the team moved away, much to the shock of their loyal fans. It was 12 years before Baltimore got a new NFL franchise, when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and changed their name to the Baltimore Ravens; ironically, much to the heartbreak of Cleveland fans.

Now, there’s a fascinating side story to the tale of the Colts’ exodus; that of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, the team’s official marching band. The band’s leaders somehow became aware of the Colts’ plan to leave in the middle of the night, and so they removed the team’s instruments from Colts headquarters. By coincidence, the band’s uniforms were at a dry cleaners and had not been taken to Indianapolis. The dry cleaner let the band members “borrow” the uniforms, and after getting the okay from Irsay’s wife, the band was allowed to keep performing in uniform as the Baltimore Colts Marching Band.

They performed in local parades, for the short lived Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League and at halftime for other NFL franchises, serving as “Baltimore’s Pro-Football Musical Ambassadors”. When the Ravens arrived in Baltimore, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band was quickly adopted as the team band; and when the Ravens moved into a new stadium at the start of their third season, the band gained new uniforms and officially became Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. For more on the tale of the Colts Marching Band, I recommend Barry Levinson’s documentary The Band That Wouldn’t Die, part of ESPN’s  30 For 30 series.

To mark the anniversary of the Colts fleeing from Baltimore, I suggest you mix a Baltimore Bang. It’s a sweet but potent take on the Whiskey Sour that adds apricot brandy.

Baltimore Bang

  • 1 1/2 ounces Whiskey
  • 1 1/2 ounces Apricot Brandy
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice and skewered cherry.

Tomorrow: A post-Impressionist master.

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