History of the Baltimore Colts
The Baltimore Colts were a professional American football franchise based in Baltimore, Maryland. The team was a member franchise of the National Football League (NFL), and played in the NFL from 1953 to 1983. The team was named the Colts for Baltimore's rich history of horse racing and Maryland's Horse farmers. The Baltimore Colts franchise moved to Indianapolis, Indiana for the 1984 season and are now known as the Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were one of the first NFL teams to have cheerleaders, a marching band and a team "fight song" (along with the nearby Washington Redskins, forty miles southeast in the nation's capital). The Colts were named after Baltimore's annual Preakness Stakes, a premier thoroughbred horse racing event, second of the famous "Triple Crown" championship series of the sport. The third, most famous Colts franchise was officially created in 1953, but can trace its history much earlier than that, to before the NFL actually began: its earliest predecessor was the old Dayton Triangles, a founding member of the NFL of 1922, (from the old American Professional Football Conference, later renamed Association a few months later in 1920) that was originally created in 1913. Because of the link to the ancient Dayton Triangles, the Colts can arguably claim to have played and won, on October 3, 1920, what could be considered the very first APFA/NFL game, with a 14-0 defeat of the rival Columbus Panhandles at Triangle Park. The team went through the following changes:
- Dayton Triangles pro football team relocated to New York City and was renamed Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930.
- Changed name to Brooklyn Tigers in 1944. In the same year, the Boston Yanks are founded.
- Merged with Boston Yanks in 1945 as the World War II-era war-time "The Yanks".
- Brooklyn franchise canceled in 1945 by the League and the team's players were given to the Boston Yanks, as a parallel team, the (New York Yankees of the new competing post-war All-America Football Conference) is founded by the Tigers' former owner, Dan Topping.
- Miami Seahawks of the AAFC are folded and replaced in the Conference's second season by a new franchise in Baltimore given the name of the "Colts" after a fan contest. The Colts later joined the reorganized NFL in 1950, following the merger of the AAFC with the older league, along with the San Francisco 49'ers and the Cleveland Browns. This franchise was later dissolved by the NFL for financial reasons after only the one season on January 18, 1951.
- Boston Yanks were canceled upon request of the team owner for tax purposes. The owner was given a new franchise for New York in 1949, now named the New York Bulldogs. The name was then changed to the New York Yanks the following season in 1950. The Yanks absorbed much of the Yankees' roster the next year.
- New York Yanks were canceled after the 1951 season and replaced in 1952 by the Dallas Texans.
- Texans owner returned the team to the ownership of the NFL during mid-season. The Texans become a road team halfway through the 1952 season with no "home base" and folded after the one season.
- Dallas Texans franchise was sold to Baltimore sports interests led by Carroll Rosenbloom on January 23, 1953 where a new team was established resurrecting the "Colts" nickname, they however replaced the old AAFC/NFL team colors of silver and green with the Texans' team colors of blue and white.
The AAFC Baltimore Colts
As the result of a contest in Baltimore, won by Charles Evans of Middle River, Md., the team was renamed the "Colts". On September 7, 1947, wearing the green and silver uniforms, the Colts, under Head Coach Cecil Isbell, won their initial AAFC game, 16–7, over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The team concluded its inaugural season before a record Baltimore crowd of 51,583 by losing to the New York Yankees, 21–7. The Colts finished with a 2–11–1 record, good for a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Division. The Colts completed the 1948 season with a 7–8 record, tying the Buffalo Bills for the division title. The Colts compiled a 1–11 mark in 1949. Y. A. Tittle was the Colts starting quarterback.
The AAFC and NFL merged in 1950, and the Colts joined the NFL. After posting a 1–11 record for the second consecutive year, the franchise was dissolved by the league on January 18, 1951. But many Baltimore fans protested the loss of their team and continued to support the marching band (the second in professional football, after that of the Washington Redskins) and fan club, both of which remained in operation and worked for the team's revival.
NFL Dallas Texans
After two seasons without professional football, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell challenged Baltimore in December 1952 to sell 15,000 season tickets within six weeks in order to re-enter the NFL. That 15,000-ticket quota was reached in four weeks and three days. On January 23, 1953, under the principal ownership of Carroll Rosenbloom, the NFL sold Dallas Texans franchise to Baltimore where, keeping the “Colts” nickname, the Texans team colors of blue and white were inherited. This is the franchise that exists today in Indianapolis.
In 1953, the second iteration of the Baltimore Colts took the field for the first time ever at Memorial Stadium on September 27 to face off against the Chicago Bears. The Colts would go on to win the game 13–9 and stun the Bears. The team's lack of experience showed as the team finished 3–9. In 1955, the Colts had 12 rookies make the team. In 1956, quarterback George Shaw went down with a serious injury in the fourth game of the season. The Colts' unproven backup, Johnny Unitas, would go on to win half the remaining eight games to give the Colts a record of 5–7 for the season.
The Colts won the NFL Championship in 1958 and repeated in 1959. The 1958 NFL Championship game is widely known as the "Greatest Game Ever Played" for its dramatic conclusion with quarterback Johnny Unitas marching the Colts downfield in sudden death overtime and Alan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run. Much of the credit for Baltimore's success went to Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas, halfback Lenny Moore, and wide receiver Raymond Berry.
Baltimore returned to the NFL championship game in 1964 but lost to the Cleveland Browns 27–0. In 1968, Unitas was injured and replaced by Earl Morrall who became the league's MVP. The 1968 Colts won their division with a 13–1 record and won the NFL championship game 34–0 over the Browns. The Colts' season ended with a shocking upset loss to the AFL New York Jets in Super Bowl III at the Miami Orange Bowl.
In 1970, the merger of the 16-team National Football League and the 10-team American Football League was finally completed with on-field realignment to create two 13-team "conferences" within the expanded 26-team NFL. All ten teams previously in the AFL were placed in the American Football Conference. Thirteen of the sixteen teams previously in the NFL were retained in the National Football Conference, but three old NFL teams (the Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cleveland Browns) were placed in the American Football Conference in order to equalize the two conferences.
That same year the Colts, still led by Johnny Unitas, won the AFC East Division title with a record of 11–2–1. In Super Bowl V the Colts won a close, low-scoring game against the Dallas Cowboys. With nine seconds left in the game placekicker Jim O'Brien kicked the game winning field goal which gave Baltimore its first Super Bowl championship. Later in the decade the Colts, led by new quarterback Bert Jones and running back Lydell Mitchell, won division titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977, but each time lost in the playoffs. Following this relative success in the 1970s, the Colts suffered a string of disappointing seasons, often finishing in last place in their division.
The move to Indianapolis
The city of Indianapolis, Indiana made an offer for the Colts to move there. Baltimore was unsuccessful at persuading them to stay, so the city government attempted to get the state legislature to condemn the Colts franchise and give ownership to another group that would promise to keep the Colts in Baltimore. Oakland, California had just had some success in court trying the same tactic with the Oakland Raiders. Under the threat of eminent domain from the city of Baltimore, the team relocated to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. The city of Baltimore did not give up and sued to condemn the franchise anyway and seize ownership. Baltimore did not prevail in court, but eventually acquired a new NFL team in 1996 with the establishment of the Baltimore Ravens following the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy.