- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

As a gifted and respected writer, director and producer, Barry Levinson had it all.
He had success, wealth and the freedom to direct the kind of movies he wanted to direct, including several set in his hometown. He had a Best Director Oscar, for "Rain Man" in 1988. But as a Baltimore native and lifelong Colts fan, what he didn't have was a football team.
"What I had," he said, "was a team to root against."
This would be the team that plays in Indianapolis, that wears the same blue-and-white uniforms and the same horseshoed helmets that have been around nearly half a century. It's the team that still calls itself the Colts. But when then-owner Robert Irsay signaled the moving vans west in the middle of that snowy night in March 1984, the Baltimore Colts ceased to exist.
Other NFL cities might have embraced their team with the same heartfelt gusto, but few franchises were as stitched into the fabric of the community. The old Colts, featuring such names as Gino Marchetti, Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore (or simply, Gino, Johnny and Lenny), were a working man's team for a working man's town. The players were visible, year-round, turning up at Colts Corrals to meet and greet, and working in real estate or for breweries or for Bethlehem Steel during the off-season.
"It's a blue-collar town, and they rallied around the football guys," said Tom Matte, a star running back for the Colts in the 1960s and now a member of the Ravens' radio team. "That's what made it special here. Guys took time to socialize with the blue-collar guys. Because we all came up that way."
When the Colts disappeared, so, too, did the loyalty of Baltimoreans like Mr. Levinson. The loyalty was replaced by loathing.
"It was devastating," Mr. Levinson said. "Anyone who knows Baltimore and its connection to football knows how people felt. Irsay was an irresponsible owner, and his treatment of the fans was terrible. It was something you obviously couldn't get over."
Not, that is, until the Ravens arrived in 1996.
Suddenly, Baltimore had a team again. True, they weren't the Colts, but the Cleveland Browns, whose fans were as angry and disappointed as Colts followers and whose owner, Art Modell, was as vilified as Irsay. But after flirtations (good teams, too) with clubs in the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League, the NFL was back.
And now, in their fifth season, the Baltimore Ravens will play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV on Sunday in Tampa, Fla. Does it make up for the pain inflicted by the Colts' departure?
"Oh, yeah," Mr. Levinson said. "Definitely."
A strong rooting interest by Ravens fans, mostly a younger crowd that doesn't remember the Colts or weren't around for them, has characterized the ascension of a team that went 6-10 as recently as two years ago. The Ravens-Oakland Raiders game for the AFC championship drew 10,000 to PSINet Stadium to watch the telecast. After the victory, about 5,000 greeted the team at the airport at 3 a.m., and several thousand more formed a parade route leading to the team's training facility at Owings Mills, Md.
"The success they're having right now is helping some of the older fans accept the new team," said Stan White, a Colts linebacker in the 1970s who now works in radio and TV. "Before, when I was doing my talk show, people would call and say, 'We'll always be Colts fans. We'll never forget you guys.' But I think now, everyone's getting into the Ravens, and that's good. A whole generation missed football here."
But aren't there some mixed feelings, especially among the old-timers? Not at all.
"This town just wants football," said Matte, formerly part-owner of the Baltimore Stallions, who won a CFL championship during their brief stay. "And thank God they got football. Baltimore is a football town. Much more of a football town than a baseball town."
Mr. Levinson, in his 1982 breakthrough movie, "Diner," and then "Tin Men," "Avalon" and "Liberty Heights," captures the people, feel and essence of the city as it was during the 1950s and '60s. The Colts, of course, were part of all that and references abound, especially in "Diner."
One of the several running themes in that movie is the character played by Steve Guttenberg, who requires his fiancee to pass a 100-question test on the Colts before the wedding. This really happened, Mr. Levinson said. His cousin Eddie (also the name of the Guttenberg character) actually did such a thing.
"I was a huge fan," Mr. Levinson said. "My father got season tickets when I was a little kid, when they came into the league in 1953. We used to go every year. We sat in the same section and saw the same people."
White, who grew up in Ohio as a Browns fan and came to the Colts in 1969 as a 17th-round draft pick out of Ohio State, quickly realized what he was getting into.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "Johnny Unitas was the quarterback. John Mackey was the tight end. Mike Curtis, Ted Hendricks. It was sort of awe-inspiring. Coming from Ohio, football was a religion there. But this was a little bit different. It was like the team was part of a family. Fans would rather go to the games than eat. We were talked about everywhere, recognized everywhere. I came as a last-round draft choice and people knew who I was."
Working as an usher at old Municipal Stadium in 1947, when the Colts still belonged to the All-American Conference, was a young fellow named George Young. When the reincarnated Colts appeared in 1953, he sat in the upper deck of the south end zone at the old horseshoe, which would be transformed into Memorial Stadium. By then, he was coaching at his alma mater, Calvert Hall High School, and had gotten to know some of the players.
Young sometimes served as the designated driver (although no one called him that) for Art Donovan, the legendary defensive tackle.
Young coached at Calvert Hall and at Baltimore City College for 15 years before joining the Colts as assistant player personnel director in 1968. He later became an assistant coach, then returned to the front office. He would make his mark as general manager of the New York Giants before joining the NFL staff in 1998. When you consider that he helped put together much of the current Giants club, these are interesting times for George Young.
"I'm happy," he said. "I'm a Baltimorean."
Given his involvement as a fan, coach and administrator, few are as steeped in the history of football in Baltimore. Young can easily tick off the complicated chronology of what would become the modern-day Colts, owned by Carroll Rosenbloom, from the All-American Conference to transformations in Miami and Dallas and then New York, with a bankruptcy or two in between. The Ravens, he said, have done a terrific job marketing their product to younger fans who aren't aware of that history. But there still remains plenty for the older fans to remember.
"With the Colts, their popularity was ingrained from the beginning," Young said. "When they came to town, they were popular early. As they developed their heroes, they became top dog. They even drove out horse racing."
Young was helping to build the Giants' Super Bowl teams of the 1980s when Irsay moved the Colts. Today, as an NFL staffer, he can objectively explain at least part of the reason, absent any passion or anger. "They had to do it that way because that's what the lawyers told them to do," he said. But he also acknowledges, "I was very unhappy about it."
Now, Young said, that's all old news.
"The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl, and that's where history is right now," he said. "I don't worry about things you can't change, and there's no sense in reliving or bringing it up. The older people have their memories. Let the younger people have their team. And that team is called the Ravens."


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