Ask any Baltimore football fan over the age of 35 the significance of the morning of March 29, 1984 and you’ll see their expression change as a flood of memories rushes over their countenance.
Thursday marked the 28th anniversary of Robert Irsay and the Baltimore Colts sneaking out of town in the middle of the night, leaving countless grown men and women — like my father and grandparents — to only sob when learning the news that morning.
(Video package courtesy of WMAR-TV in Baltimore)
Many say they’re over the bitterness of the Colts’ departure while others will take that anger to their graves. And younger fans, such as those of my generation and younger, either aren’t that terribly interested or will never fully grasp the emotions of that night and morning and the days and years that followed.
All of those perspectives are perfectly acceptable as long as the feelings of each person invested in Baltimore football are respected.
It took time, but Baltimore wound up better in the long run as the city secured another team and won a championship before the Indianapolis Colts ever tasted Super Bowl glory. The Ravens have become ingrained in the community as much as a franchise can be in the modern and more lucrative era of professional sports.
What I didn’t realize, or perhaps had simply forgotten over the last 16 years, was March 29 also being a more positive day in the history of Baltimore football. Twelve years after those Mayflower trucks pulled out of Owings Mills, Art Modell announced his newly-relocated franchise would be renamed the Ravens — the Marauders and the Americans were the other two finalists — in the first tangible step of establishing a distinct identity for a new NFL team in Baltimore.
The team’s move from Cleveland had been announced several months earlier, but learning the result of a fan poll to name the franchise somehow granted more authenticity to the idea of NFL football once again being played at Memorial Stadium that fall.
A plethora of detailed accounts by more talented, authoritative writers can easily be found, so I don’t feel the need to rehash the circumstances or emotions surrounding each relocation at length.
But I do believe in the importance of remembering and respecting the city’s football heritage, recognizing where we once were and how those events impacted our lives as well as our loved ones, many of whom are no longer with us.
March 29 represents both the darkest day in the history of Baltimore football and part of a new beginning.
And it’s why I’ll remember and think about my father and grandparents a little more than usual on this day.