The Baltimore Colts, founded in 1953, played in the National Football League from 1953 to 1983. The team was named the Colts for Baltimore's rich history of horse racing. The Colts franchise moved to Indianapolis, Indiana between the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
The Colts were the first NFL team to have cheerleaders, and a marching band. The Colts were named after Baltimore's annual Preakness Stakes which is why many fans are bitter that Indianapolis retained the Colt team name. The 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 Dayton Triangles, a founding member of the NFL that was originally created in 1913. That team went through the following changes:
- Dayton Triangles relocated and 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 wartime "The Yanks."
- Franchise canceled in 1945 by league and the team's temporary merger with the Boston Yanks is made permanent, as a parallel team (AAFC New York Yankees) is founded by the Tigers' former owner, Dan Topping.
- Miami Seahawks of the AAFC are purchased and relocated to Baltimore and renamed the Colts (Originally wearing Green and Silver). This franchise was dissolved by the league on January 18, 1951.
- Boston Yanks move to New York in 1949 and become New York Yanks, absorbing much of the Yankees' roster the next year.
- New York Yanks move to Dallas in 1952 as Dallas Texans.
- Texans become a road team halfway through the 1952 season and are dissolved shortly thereafter.
- Dallas Texans franchise was moved to Baltimore on January 23, 1953 where, resurrecting the “Colts” nickname, they kept 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’s Dallas Texans franchise was moved 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.
The Texans had a long and winding history; they started as the Boston Yanks in 1944 and merged with the Brooklyn Tigers (previously known as the Dayton Triangles, an original NFL team established in the 1910s) for the 1945 season before moving to New York as the Bulldogs in 1949. The team then became the Yanks in 1950, and many of the players from the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference were added to the team. The Yanks moved to Dallas after the 1951 season, but played their final two "home" games of the 1952 season at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio.
In 1953 the second iteration of the Baltimore Colts took the field 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 24-0. 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. The Colts ownership, having been alerted by the events in California, were not going to wait to see what the government was going to do to them. Under the threat of eminent domain from the city of Baltimore, the team relocated to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. Had they not, Irsay's team would likely have been taken away from him the next day, so he essentially had no choice. The city of Baltimore did not give up and sued to condemn the franchise anyway and seize ownership. Baltimore did not prevail in court.
- Gibbons, Michael (2006-08-07). "Baltimore's Colts: A Team for the Ages". Press Box Online. http://www.pressboxonline.com/story.cfm?id=727. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
- "A look at the history of the Indianapolis Colts". http://colts.com/sub.cfm?page=football_dynamic&id=174.
- Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Indianapolis Colts, 624 F.Supp. 278 (D.Md. 1985)
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