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Restoring Baltimore's Football Heritage

A Commentary by Tony Lombardi
The NFL's ascension to the comfortable pinnacle that it now occupies in the sporting world began back in 1958. Historians argue, and with good reason, that the game often referred to as the "Greatest Game Ever Played" changed the way the viewing public embraced the NFL.

The game took place on Dec. 28, 1958 in Yankee Stadium featuring the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. Twelve future Hall of Famers played on that afternoon, including the game's shining star, John Unitas.  

The game proved to be a watershed event for the NFL. It was a captivating struggle between two talented teams and the nation took notice on black-and-white TV sets in living rooms throughout America.  The Colts became the first true "America's Team" -- fan clubs called Colt Corrals sprung up all over the country, the most famous in Hollywood with a chapter president named Clark Gable.  

The NFL caught a bolt of lightning on that unseasonably warm December day in '58 and has never let it go.

In many ways, the Baltimore Colts put the NFL on the map and heightened the country's awareness of the league, enabling it to approach and eventually surpass the status of Major League Baseball.  

Baltimore and the Colts -- a perfect marriage and the first of its kind. The marriage ended in March of 1984 when under the dark skies of a snowy spring night, then-owner Robert Irsay hauled the Colts out of Baltimore in Mayflower vans. The city was left to mourn and for some the pain has yet to subside.

The city of Baltimore, for the most part, has come to accept that the prideful horseshoe will never again grace the helmets of their hometown team. Yet it will never accept, nor should it accept, the humiliating disregard of Baltimore's NFL heritage and the Hall of Fame players whose legacies are trapped in the presentation of the Indianapolis Colts within the league's ultimate shrine at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That hardly seems fair to a city that for all intents and purposes built the foundation upon which the NFL and that building in Canton, Ohio, stand.

The Baltimore Colts will never play another NFL game but at least their memory should remain alive and young fans and future fans deserve to understand the historical significance and relevance of Baltimore in the league's history.

Let the careers of those Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts rest in their proper place. Restore all the Baltimore Colts records prior to the 1984 season so that all former players who left parts of their broken bodies on 33rd Street at Memorial Stadium can be presented and remembered properly and in a manner of their choosing.

And finally, restore the dignity of a pioneering city. 

Joe Horrigan, the Hall's vice president-communications/exhibits has said, "We don't rewrite history. We merely present it."

Then please present it accurately.

Together fans can make a difference. Log on to and place your name in the petition.

Others close to this injustice have not only signed the petition, but have left thoughtful commentary that resonates:

"My father never played a down of football in Indianapolis. To have him and his Baltimore teammates any way associated with the Indianapolis Colts is simply a bald-faced lie by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The reason Halls of Fame exist is so people can learn the history of the sports they represent. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is ignoring the history of Baltimore football and the men that helped make professional football what it is today."

Those are the words of Johnny's son, Joe Unitas.

Through solidarity in numbers, fans can restore this city's football heritage and most importantly can enable the legacies of Baltimore sports heroes to rest in their rightful place.


Tony Lombardi is the founder of and the host of "Gametime" heard on Baltimore's ESPN Radio AM 1300 every Sunday at 11 a.m. 

Issue 2.12: March 22, 2007