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'It degrades a great tradition': 39 years ago, football was ripped away from Baltimore

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BALTIMORE - The Mayflower moving vans driving away remain a strong image engrained in old-time fans of the Baltimore Colts.

It took 12 years of football away from Baltimore.

On March 28, 1984, 39 years ago to the day, owner Bob Irsay ordered moving crews to pack up and head to Indianapolis.


In the middle of the night, the Baltimore Colts, winners of the 1970 Super Bowl, were off to their new city without any public announcement.

The doors and dates were locked at the training facility in Owings Mills, and all of the equipment was cleared out.

"The Colts could move tomorrow if they wanted to. They could have moved six months ago, a year ago," Irsay said. "When (Raiders owner) Al Davis moved, we could have moved. We didn't move. We are not moving. You fellas have to help me stay here and fill that stadium. You want me here? IU want to stay here."  

WJZ News was at the facility that night as moving vans took off.

The Baltimore Colts' history, which once had stars Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, was taken with the moving truck.

"I'm trying to retain what little dignity I have left in this matter," Then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer said. "If the Colts had to sneak out of town at night, it degrades a great tradition of the city and football. The third thing is, I hate to see a man cry."


WJZ Anchor Denise Koch was a new Lifestyle a reporter for WJZ at the time.

She recalls the commotion in the newsroom.

"I came into the newsroom and it was like a bomb had gone off," Koch said. "There was so much activity and upset. I had no idea what was going on. I hadn't been in TV very long and I hadn't been in Baltimore very long, and I wasn't really a football fan, so I didn't really know much about the Colts. They are telling me this is huge."

Koch said she was assigned to get community reaction for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

So, she went to Johnny Unitas' bar, "The Golden Arm."

  "They sent me, because I was a Lifestyle reporter, to the Golden Arm, which was Johnny Unitas' bar/cafe," Koch said. "I had to got in there and get reaction from people at the bar. I remember the waitresses, very Baltimorean-type waitresses, some people were crying, there was that much upset."

Baltimore finally got its football team back in 1996 when Art Modell moved his team from Cleveland.

But, working on March 28, 1984, Koch is one of many in Baltimore who still have frightening images of moving vans taking the heart of the city with them.

"I remember on the 11 o'clock news these images of the snowy, gray day as these moving vans went out of the facility," Koch said. "The images are stuck in my head. That was sort of the first big news event when I started here. To Baltimore, it was enormous."

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