Unlike most of the world, where sports teams are forever linked to the city or town of their formation, protected by roving hooligan mobs, here in the United States, we prefer to restrict the brutality to the field of play. Off the field, sports teams are big business.
As such, team owners have a long, proud tradition of whisking away franchises in the dead of night for greener pastures across the continent. St. Louis becomes Los Angeles, Seattle becomes Oklahoma City, Montreal becomes Washington, DC. Big metropolises are not immune – the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Raiders moved to Oakland, the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee.
Often, these moves are short-sighted, selfish efforts for an ownership group to extort a favorable stadium deal and/or tax break from a naïve new market, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. In March of 1984, when the then-Baltimore Colts headed west to greener pastures in Indianapolis, both teams won (…championships…eventually…).
At the time, the city of Baltimore was unable to see the forest for the trees and became furious with the move. They chose to focus solely on the fact that, on the direction of Indianapolis’ mayor, 15 Mayflower trucks had packed up the Colts belongings and set off for Indiana before the sun rose, rather than the fact that this move would (eventually) net them a new team, two Super Bowl championships, six Hall of Famers and an improved stadium.
Indiana residents were, fortunately, able to view things with more level-headed clarity, showering Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut, Colts owner Robert Irsay and the team itself with praise and adulation.
Unlike Baltimore residents, Hoosiers correctly ascertained that, without this middle of the night departure from Charm City, the legacies of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Tony Dungy wouldn’t have existed and the Colts would not have won Super Bowl XLI.
Where it not for the honorable actions of Robert Irsay, William Hudnut, and the Indiana-based Mayflower Transit Company, Baltimore would have never lured the Browns from Cleveland, rebranded them as the Ravens and created one of the most feared defensive units in NFL history. Instead, they would have been reinstated as an expansion team in 1999, drafted Tim Couch first overall and become the butt of late-night TV monologue jokes for a decade.
The Colts have now been in Indiana longer than they were in Baltimore, and the original Browns have seamlessly transitioned into the Ravens. Both teams have won Super Bowl’s this millennium and, hindsight being 20-20, the 1984 move has worked out for everyone involved (except Cleveland).