Breaking News
More () »

This Day In Sports: Slap-in-the-face move in the middle of the night

1984: It was a move that didn’t win friends and influence people in Baltimore. But the Colts owner didn’t care, and the franchise founded in 1953 snuck out of town.
Credit: Lloyd Pearson/The Baltimore Sun via AP
In this file photo from March 29, 1984, a moving van carrying the Baltimore Colts' equipment leaves Baltimore for Indianapolis in the middle of the night. Colts owner Robert Irsay relocated his team to Indianapolis without any public announcement _ leaving fans in both cities stunned when they woke up that morning. (Lloyd Pearson/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

BOISE, Idaho — THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 28, 1984:

Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay signs a 20-year lease to move the team to Indianapolis, and in the wee hours the following morning, he packs up the Colts’ stuff and bolts. At 2 a.m., 15 moving trucks showed up at the Colts’ training complex and were loaded up. They left in a snowstorm. The city of Baltimore, which wanted Irsay to pay for improvements to aging Memorial Stadium, got nowhere, and earlier that day the Maryland legislature had passed a law allowing the city to seize the team from Irsay via eminent domain. He quickly signed the deal with Indy. (Phoenix had also been interested in the Colts but dropped out of negotiations late in the process.)

Irsay had owned the franchise since 1972, which coincided with a slide into futility. It was a year after the Colts’ championship in Super Bowl V, and they didn’t reach those heights again for 45 years, when Peyton Manning starred at quarterback. The Colts knew they had reached the bottom four decades ago when John Elway was drafted first overall by the team out of Stanford—and he refused to play for them (Elway ended up in Denver, of course).

The Colts were welcomed with open arms and wallets in Indianapolis. The team had 143,000 season ticket requests within two weeks of the move. But Irsay was still persona non grata in much of the sports world. Even his mother disparaged him in a 1986 Sports Illustrated story. "He's a devil on earth, that one. He stole all our money and said goodbye. He (doesn't) care for me. I (haven't) even see him for 35 years. My husband, Charles, sent him to college. I made his wedding. Five thousand dollars, it cost us. When my husband got sick and got the heart attack, he took advantage. He was no good. He was a bad boy. I don't want to talk about him."

Ironically, Baltimore got its current team in similar fashion when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell uprooted his team and turned it into the Ravens in 1996. The city of Cleveland, which also had a deteriorating stadium, felt Baltimore’s 12-year-old pain. Modell moved with the promise of a brand new stadium, which he got. The Ravens won a Super Bowl five years later and nabbed another one following the 2012 season. Cleveland saw the second iteration of the Browns begin play in 1999. They are still seeking their first Super Bowl appearance.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

Watch more Sports:

See KTVB sports coverage in our YouTube playlist:

KTVB is now on Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. Download the apps today for live newscasts and video on demand.

Download the KTVB mobile app to get breaking news, weather and important stories at your fingertips.

Before You Leave, Check This Out