The Move To Indianapolis - The True Story
Circa 1969 Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was considered inadequate by both the Colts and Orioles ownership. In May of that year, the city of Baltimore announced it would seek a “substantial” increase in Memorial Stadium rental fees from then Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom himself had long since called Memorial Stadium “antiquated” and had threatened to move all Colts home games out of the stadium unless improvements were made. He even considered using $12–20 million of his own money to help fund the building of a new football only stadium on land in adjoining Baltimore County.But that idea never took off.
Flash forward to November 1971 and Rosenbloom announced that the team would not return to Memorial Stadium when their lease ran out following the 1972 season and that he was not interested in negotiating with the city anymore. He wanted out of Baltimore completely. A few of the reasons being – overall team revenue, problems with Baltimore Orioles ownership relating to Memorial Stadium revenues, a running feud with the local Baltimore press, and his new wife's desire to move to the West Coast.Rosenbloom had decided to either move or sell the team.
Real estate investor Will Keland was prepared to buy the Colts from Rosenbloom and the two had moved from small talk to serious negotiations. However, ultimately Keland could not generate enough funds necessary to purchase the team, but his golfing buddy Robert Irsay, (who originally was only slated to own 1 percent of the team) did possess the necessary funds and decided to make the purchase himself. On July 13, 1972, Irsay became owner of the Colts. Under the terms of the arrangement, he bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million, and then traded them to Rosenbloom for the Colts and $3 million in cash. Irsay would now have to overcome the same obstacles that forced Rosenbloom to quit Baltimore.
In 1971, Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer and the state's governor, Marvin Mandel, created a stadium committee to examine the city's stadium needs. Part of the committee's report was a blow to Memorial Stadium. Some of the problems mentioned: 10,000 of the stadium's seats had views that were "less than desirable"; 20,000 seats were out-dated bench seats that had no back support; 7,000 so called seats were actually poorly constructed temporary bleachers that were installed for football games only. Also, there was not enough office space adequate enough for the front offices of either the Orioles or Colts, much less both teams combined. Both teams had to share locker rooms, the upper deck of Memorial Stadium did not circle the field, ending instead at the 50-yard line, thousands of potential seats (and added revenue) were missing. Any expansion plans for the stadium had usually mentioned less attractive (and less expensive) end-zone seats, not upper deck seating. And the number of bathroom facilities in Memorial Stadium was deemed inadequate.
As a result, Maryland's planners came up with an ambitious project. Nicknamed the Baltodome, the project was to create a facility near the city's Inner Harbor known as Camden Yards. The new stadium would host 70,000 fans for football games, 55,000 for baseball and 20,000 as an arena for hockey or basketball. For an estimated $78 million, the city and both professional franchise owners would be able to build a facility that would have kept everyone happy. Unfortunately the proposal did not receive support from the State of Maryland's elected legislature. And on February 27, 1974 Maryland's Governor Mandel pulled the plug on the idea.
Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger was blunt: "I will bow to the will of the people. They have told us what they want to tell us. First, they don't want a new park and second, they don't want a club."Robert Irsay on the other hand was willing to wait. "It’s not a matter of saying that there will be no stadium. It’s a matter of getting the facts together so everybody is happy when they build the stadium. I'm a patient man. I think the people of Baltimore are going to see those new stadiums in New Orleans and Seattle opening in a year or two around the country, and they are going to realize they need a stadium ... for conventions and other things besides football."
But Hyman Pressman, Baltimore's City Comptroller, was personally against using any taxpayer funds to build a new stadium for the Colts or the Orioles. And during the 1974 elections, Pressman had an amendment to the city's charter placed on the upcoming ballot. The amendment was known as "Question P" and it called for declaring "Memorial stadium (then called the 33rd Street stadium) as a memorial to war veterans and prohibited use of city funds for construction of any other stadium." The measure was passed by the citizens of Baltimore by a margin of 56% to 44%. I believe that if you reverse-engineer the entire process back and look for turning points, the franchise's move to Indianapolis was ultimately a result of Pressman's actions and the subsequent vote by the citizens of Baltimore.
In 1979, Indianapolis community leaders created the Indiana Sports Corp. in order to attract major sports events to central Indiana. In 1980, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut appointed a committee to study the feasibility of building a new stadium that could serve as home to a professional football team. That study proved positive and in 1982 construction of the stadium (Hoosier Dome) began.
On December 18, 1983, The Colts played their final home game in the city of Baltimore. 27,934 fans showed up at Memorial Stadium, 516 more fans than attended their first home game in 1947. By February 1983 the relationship between Irsay and the city of Baltimore had deteriorated significantly. That year Baltimore Mayor Schaefer asked the Maryland General Assembly to approve a paltry $15 million for renovation to Memorial Stadium. The Maryland legislature did not approve the request until the following spring, after the Colts' lease had expired and only half of that $15 million would go towards improvements that the Colts were seeking (The other half for the Orioles). On March 2, 1983 NFL owners had seen enough and voted to give Irsay permission to move his franchise to the city of his choosing. Irsay held discussions with several cities hungry for an NFL franchise (New York, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Jacksonville and Memphis) eventually narrowing the list of cities to two, Phoenix and Indianapolis.
In January 1984, Baltimore's mayor Schaefer publically announced, "We're not going to build a new stadium. We do not have the bonding capacity. We don't have the voters or taxpayer who can support a $60 million stadium. One-third of the people in Baltimore pay taxes. Unless private enterprise builds it, we won’t build it. (This appears to have been a ruse to pit the taxpayers of Baltimore against Irsay because Schaefer well knew that the city could not legally use taxpayer money to build any new stadium as a result of the aforementioned question P)."
The Phoenix Metropolitan Sports Foundation, headed by real estate developer Eddie Lynch, along with Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and other top Arizona officials, had secretly met with Irsay early in January 1984. And preliminary talks seemed promising. Phoenix was offering a below market rate $15,000,000.00 loan and rent free use of the 71,000 seat Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University. A second meeting was scheduled between Irsay and the Phoenix group. But when word of a second scheduled meeting leaked out and was reported by the media on the Friday before the Super Bowl, Irsay canceled. Meanwhile, Indianapolis and local real estate developer Robert Welch were lobbying the NFL to bring an expansion team to the city, with Welch as team owner. Welch also had personal discussions with New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom about buying the team and moving it to Indianapolis. But the same month, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced that expansion had been put on hold. As a result of that announcement, Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon contacted Colts' officials in order to take negotiations between the franchise and the city of Indianapolis to the next level. Mayor Hudnut then assigned deputy mayor David Frick to begin negotiations with Colts counsel Michael Chernoff. On February 13, representatives from the Colts travelled to Indianapolis in order to look at Hoosier Dome construction. And then Colts owner Robert Irsay visited on February 23. "He [Irsay] was visibly moved," former deputy mayor Dave Frick said commenting on Irsay's reaction to entering the brand new domed stadium. "Emotionally, he was making the move."
Meanwhile in Baltimore, the situation continued to deteriorate. On March 26th the Maryland state Senate considered taking up two proposed bills. The first called for the state of Maryland to offer Colts Owner Robert Irsay $40 million to purchase the team and then sell it back to local investors. The second called for the state to condemn the Colts and begin eminent domain proceedings to take the team from Irsay outright (an idea first floated in a memo written by Baltimore mayoral aide Mark Wasserman). The Maryland politicians chose the eminent domain route and on March 27th the Maryland Senate passed legislation giving the city of Baltimore the legal right to seize ownership of the Colts Franchise. Colts owner Robert Irsay said that the move to Indianapolis was "a direct result" of the eminent domain bill and Colts counsel Michael Chernoff would say of the Senate vote: "They not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, 'Want to see if it's loaded?' They forced him to make a decision that day."
On March 28th citing the recent moves by the Maryland legislature, the Phoenix group withdrew their offer. Robert Irsay then called Indianapolis Mayor Hudnut in order to expedite negotiations. Indianapolis offered the Colts owner a $12,500,000 loan, a $4,000,000 training complex, and the use of the brand new $77.5 million, 57,980 seat Hoosier Dome. And Irsay agreed.
In turn Mayor Hudnut called his neighbor and friend, John B. Smith who was the chief executive officer of Mayflower Transit, an Indiana-based moving company, and Hudnut asked him for assistance. Smith dispatched twenty-two Mayflower trucks to the Colts' facility in Owings Mills, Maryland. Beginning to arrive at 10:00PM the Mayflower workers began loading all of the team's belongings and departing for Indianapolis. The obvious motivation for the overnight move was the realization that the following business day, the Maryland House of Delegates would also approve the eminent domain bill which if signed by the Maryland Governor, would result in Irsay losing ownership of his NFL franchise.
By 10:00 AM on the 29th the Colts franchise was completely gone from Baltimore.
That day the Maryland House of Delegates did indeed pass the Eminent Domain bill by a vote of 103-19 and the legislation taking control of the Colts was then sent to Maryland Governor Harry Hughes who signed it immediately (at that point, in the state of Maryland the Colts franchise no longer belonged to Robert Irsay).
Departing Maryland, each of the Mayflower trucks took a slightly different route on the way to Indianapolis. This was done to confuse the Maryland State Police, who could've been called on to put a stop to the move. Once each van was at the Indiana state line, it was met by Indiana State Police, who escorted each van to the Colts new home in Indianapolis.
On March 29th Baltimore representatives wired a $40 million offer to Irsay to purchase the team. However, the Colts owner did not respond. Unlike the aforementioned eminent domain legislation, no bill had been passed providing for the funds being offered. That day Baltimore's Mayor Schaefer, appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Sun in tears. After the Colts left and in spite of his earlier stance that the city of Baltimore would not build a new stadium, the politician immediately prioritized the building of a brand new stadium. Putting it at the top of his legislative agenda.
Later John Moag, Jr., chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, stated in sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate subcommittee responsible for the Fan Freedom and Community Protection Act: "It was the failure of our local (Baltimore) and state elected officials in Maryland to provide the Colts with a firm proposal for a new stadium that led Mr. Irsay to accept an offer from Indianapolis to play in a new dome in that city."
Indianapolis Mayor Hudnut held a press conference March 29 to announce an agreement had been reached and the team was on its way to Indianapolis. The deal was sealed March 30 with approval by the Capital Improvement Board, which operated the Hoosier Dome. Two days later, 20,000 new Colts fans cheered as Mayor Hudnut proclaimed March 29, 1984...
..."one of the greatest days in the history of this city."