This Day In History: March 28

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On March 28, 1984, Bob Irsay (1923-1997), owner of the once-mighty Baltimore Colts, moves the team to Indianapolis. Without any sort of public announcement, Irsay hired movers to pack up the team’s offices in Owings Mills, Maryland, in the middle of the night, while the city of Baltimore slept.

Robert Irsay gained control of the Colts in 1972 when he essentially traded his ownership in the Los Angeles Rams with Caroll Rosenbloom, then the owner of the Colts franchise. The Colts, led by quarterback Johnny Unitas, halfback Lenny Moore and defensive linemen Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, had been the best team in the NFL in the late 1950s and had come to embody the working-class spirit of Baltimore. The players lived among the fans, worked alongside the fans in the off-season and performed with evident pride in their adopted city. It wasn’t until Irsay purchased the team that the franchise began its downward spiral. After winning Super Bowl V in 1971, the Colts had a few winning years, but by the late 1970s, the franchise was so bad that when future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway was drafted number one overall by the Colts out of Stanford in 1983, he refused to report to the team, saying he would play baseball for the New York Yankees instead. The Colts were forced to trade Elway to the Denver Broncos.

To make matters worse for the Colts, Irsay was by most accounts a difficult boss–he was infamous for his temper and was known to angrily lash out at players and employees. In 1984, Irsay asked the city of Baltimore to pay for improvements to Memorial Stadium, where the Colts played. But, here again, his irascibility may have gotten in the way. Although the two sides told different stories of what went on in the negotiations, it did not go well by any account, and on March 28, the Maryland state legislature passed a law allowing the city of Baltimore to seize the Colts from Irsay. Rather than give up his team, Irsay quickly took a deal offered by the city of Indianapolis and moved the Colts before anyone knew what had happened. Baltimore fans were stunned, and the Colts marching band, long a fixture at games, defiantly continued to perform in the city.

Football did not return to the Charm City until 1996, when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell (1925-2012), in a dispute with the city of Cleveland over the stadium the Browns played in, agreed to move the Browns to Baltimore in return for a brand-new stadium built with taxpayer money. Although the Browns had enjoyed many years of success and rabid fan support while in Cleveland, Modell claimed that financial hardship forced his hand.

The Browns were renamed the Baltimore Ravens after the poem “The Raven,” penned by Edgar Allan Poe. Under the leadership of General Manager Ozzie Newsome, a Browns Hall of Famer, the franchise has seen consistent success in Baltimore, including victory in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 against the New York Giants, with many players that had actually been drafted as Browns. They repeated the feat in 2013 with a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.