Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghosts of the Colts

While watching the wonderful ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, The Band that Wouldn't Die, about the Colts leaving Baltimore and the marching band that stayed behind, I got to thinking about my childhood as a football orphan in the wake of the Colts moving to Indianapolis.

I am 30 years old, which means that I was 4 going on 5 when the Colts left Baltimore in the winter of 1984. I don't have a single memory of the Colts.

Part of me is mad that I can't connect with the old Colts fans who occasionally still scratch their Colt phantom limbs. When they bring up the past, I feel alienated and frustrated to the point of saying "let it go". After all, we're lucky to have the Ravens who have already won a Super Bowl and are competitive year in and year out.

Then another part of me is glad that I didn't have to go through the heartbreak of losing a beloved team.

Take the Orioles for instance. They've been here for my entire lifetime, and I came up an Orioles fan. It was the same as inheriting my parents features -- I inherited their love of the O's. And even though the Orioles haven't supplied me with a wealth of fond memories (I basically live off of '89, '96 and '97), they are still my one and only baseball team.

And if they ever left Baltimore, I'd be devastated.

For my generation of football fans in Baltimore, we grew up as orphans.

We knew little of the Colts in Baltimore, so we were forced to adopt other teams to root for. I dabbled in fandom for the Bengals and Steelers (Yes, I'll admit it) while my friends attached themselves to the Saints (they had family in New Orleans) while my cousin jumped on the Cowboys bandwagon during their Super Bowl runs in the early 90's.

A lot of kids I went to school with became Redskins fans, and it wasn't hard for them to do since the Redskins were winning Super Bowls in the late 80's, early 90's.

I'd like to think that experience as a football orphan made me a better, more loyal fan when the Ravens arrived in Baltimore. When that happened I instantly fused them with my being, and I never take them for granted.

Meanwhile, as an Oriole fan, I have a blog called "The Bad Oriole" where I trash the Orioles every chance I get, and believe me, they don't leave me with a shortage of chances to do it.

But while watching the documentary, directed by Baltimore native director Barry Levinson, I was reminded of how strong the Colts roots were in the city and how much of an impact the team had on today's NFL. The 1958 Championship game versus the New York Giants transformed the NFL into the TV giant it is today. And Super Bowl III forced the NFL to recognize the fledgling AFL, even if the Colts had to play the part of the once-favored loser.

But most of all, it gave me a new found respect for the old Colts Marching Band. At Ravens games, they strut out on the field at halftime, play their renditions of five year old pop songs while fans either call their friends for their fantasy football score, or go to the bathroom. I've even gone as far as calling the band an embarrassment.

But all that changed while watching The Band that Wouldn't Die. I realized that they were largely instrumental in keeping Baltimore at the forefront of any NFL expansion or relocation. They toured other cities' stadiums, and kept Baltimore in the minds of the powers that be. And they didn't give up, even after the NFL passed Baltimore over in the 1993 Expansion for Carolina and Jacksonville.

So when they come out on the field at the next home game, I may not exactly enjoy their cheesy performance, but I will give them a hearty applause. They deserve it for enduring for so long.

In the end, The Band that Wouldn't Die made me proud to be not an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan, but a Baltimore fan. There is so much history around us and sometimes we get so caught up in the present that we forget that the past is even there.

And while we may roll our eyes whenever some salt-of-the-earth Baltimore fan calls into a sports radio talk show and brings up the Baltimore Colts, the past would cease to exist if we weren't occasionally reminded of it -- packed up into Mayflower vans and driven off to some barren wasteland.

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