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Vivid Colt Memory: Moving Trucks : Shift From Baltimore 'Brought Chills' to Irsay's Spine

March 31, 1985|United Press International

INDIANAPOLIS — General Manager Jim Irsay's most vivid memory of the first year in the history of the Indianapolis Colts was the moment the moving trucks arrived to take the team from Baltimore.

"Probably the most unbelievable moment--it brought chills to my spine--was in the chill of the night, the fog in the distance, in the dark," Irsay said. "Probably the most striking memory is that first truck pulling up. I remember thinking, 'My God, all of Maryland can hear these things pull up.'

"It was an ending but we were looking forward to a new beginning. It was an emotional moment."

The moment, which came one year ago Friday, ended the 32-year history of the Baltimore Colts. The final days were filled with reports about owner Robert Irsay moving the team to Indianapolis, Phoenix or several other cities because of problems with Memorial Stadium and dwindling attendance.

"During the whole period, it was touch and go, touch and go," the younger Irsay said. "With my dad, we didn't know until he said we were going. He said call and get the trucks rolling and I don't think he knew it until he said it."

Irsay was speaking to a former Colts general manager, who said the team would not move, when his secretary interrupted with a call from his father. Robert Irsay said the team was moving.

"My heart started pounding from then on," Irsay said. "I called (Coach) Frank Kush and said we're definitely going. We let people go home who were not going and started trying to do things without anyone noticing.

"I had a meeting with the other people and said, 'Just get packing like all hell and get ready to go."'

A crowd of 25,000 Indianapolis fans turned out four days later at the Hoosier Dome when the Irsays arrived. It was a hint of things to come for a team that was still in boxes.

The Colts were quickly moved into a renovated grade school, where their offices remain, although plans are under way for a $4 million practice facility.

"There's no way you can describe it," Irsay said. "It was an unbelievable period. It was like setting up an expansion franchise."

Within a month, the team, without a season ticket plan, took out newspaper advertisements that were season ticket order forms.

People stood for up to six hours in line on a cold, rainy night for the first of such papers to be printed. But street vendors weren't able to get to the people in line because others were running up to them and buying as many as 20 papers at a time.

The Colts received more than 150,000 season ticket requests, 2 1/2 times the capacity of the team's Hoosier Dome home.

"You could see the support here early, but the clear indication was the tickets," Irsay said. "That was incredible."

The Colts, after coming up with a ticket plan and computerized lottery system, waited until the last possible days before mailing out refunds or tickets, causing one fan to sue the team.

But when the season began, the Colts played before sellout crowds at every home game -- despite a 4-12 season.

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