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The Baltimore Colts were a professional American Football team that played in the NFL between 1953 and 1983. The team played in the Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. They are credited with pioneering the tradition of cheerleaders and the marching band in games.
How Did the Baltimore Colts Start?
The franchise officially began in 1953 but it can trace its roots to 1913 in the colors of NFL founding member team, the Dayton Triangles. This team was actually not the first to use the name Baltimore Colts. An earlier franchise had existed from 1947 to 1950 that played in the AAFC and later the NFL, but it folded in 1950 following a poor season in which they lost 11 out of 12 matches. With the aim of returning to Baltimore, the NFL challenged Baltimore in 1952 to sell 15, 000 season tickets within 6 weeks. The city achieved the feat in four weeks and was granted an expansion franchise. In January 1953, the NFL sold the Dallas Texans to Baltimore. The new team adopted the “Colts” moniker but kept the Texans’ blue and white team colors.
The Baltimore Colts in Competition
The Colts were a very successful team over most of their 30-year course. Their first season kicked off with a surprising 13-9 win over the Chicago Bears. However, their inexperience saw them finish the season with a 3-9 record. Rookies and unproven players played an important role over the next three years, particularly quarterback Johnny Unitas who covered for injured first choice quarterback George Shaw. The Colts won the 1958 and 1959 NFL Championships thanks largely to the contribution of team legends Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore.
Baltimore would then wait until 1964 to return to the NFL championship game, which they lost 27-0 to the Cleveland Browns. In 1968, having clinched their division’s first position with a 13-1 record, the Colts beat the Browns 34-0. In the Super Bowl III, they lost to AFL outfit New York Jets. In 1970 following the merger of the AFL and NFL, the Colts were placed in the newly formed AFC East Division. They won the division that year with an 11-2-1 record and then won the Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys. The colts won further division titles in 1975, 1976 and 1977 but failed to make an impact in the playoffs. This period of relative success was followed by a run of disappointing seasons in which they often finished last in their division.
Baltimore Colts Notable Moments
During the 1958 NFL championship game, quarterback Johnny Unitas and Alan Ameche produced an inspired performance in sudden death overtime. This game is widely regarded as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. With the game tied heading into overtime, Unitas marched downfield and set up Alan Ameche for the winning touch down on a 1-yard run. The colts eventually ended 23-17 in the Colts favor.
The Colts won the NFL champion on two further occasions in 1959, 1968 and the Super Bowl in 1970. It is worth noting that Baltimore’s best years coincided with Johnny Unitas stay at the club.
Notable Players Who Played For the Baltimore Colts:
Johnny Unitas: arguably the Colts’ best player ever, Unitas helped the team win the Super Bowl once and The NFL championship thrice. He made a career total 40,239 passing yards. Out of 5186 career pass attempts, 2840 were successful, an impressive completion rate of 54.6%. He spent most of his career with Baltimore and was named the second greatest quarterback by The Sporting News in 2004.
Art Donovan: the defensive tackler who stayed on from Dallas Texans, was nicknamed “The Bulldog” because of his fierce and aggressive play. He was part of the Colts during some of the most successful episodes and his contribution saw him elected to five straight Pro Bowls between 1954 and 1958.
Alan Ameche: probably best remembered for his game-winning touchdown in the 1958 Championship game against the Giants, Ameche spent six seasons with the colts and was a four time Pro-Bowler.
Lenny Moore: the running back, who played for the Colts between 1956-1967 formed a formidable partnership with Johnny Unitas. He averaged over seven yards per carry a season an amazing three times. His best season was 1958 when he had 598 rushing yards, 938 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.
What Happened To The Baltimore Colts ?
Following deteriorating results during the close of the 70s decade and early 80s and concerns over a crumbling stadium, Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay took up an offer from the city of Indianapolis to move the franchise there.
Despite a spirited fight by Baltimore city officials to stop it, the relocation happened controversially in the middle of the night on March 28, 1984. The logic behind the late night move was that the next day, the Maryland House of Delegates was to discuss the eminent domain bill which if approved would see the team seized. The bill was passed and signed but by then it was too late as all of the Colts’ assets had already been relocated.
The Franchise was renamed the Indianapolis Colts and now plays in the RCA Dome. The move was unpopular with Baltimore residents and club legends including Unitas refused to acknowledge the new franchise.