Imagine a parallel universe in which the Indianapolis Colts never moved to Indianapolis. No Mayflower trucks. No sneaking out in the middle of the night with 14 trailers hastily filled with unmarked boxes running serpentine across state lines. No nasty divorce between the city of Baltimore and the Irsay family. What would Indianapolis look like now? Would Baltimore be better off?
When the Colts arrived in Indiana, I was about three years old. I didn’t understand the ugly cloak-and-dagger circumstances that brought the pretty blue horseshoe to town. In those days, people in Indiana preferred amateur sports, namely high school and college basketball. The Indiana Pacers had been in the NBA for eight painful years; they’d just brought in Clark Kellogg and been purchased by the Simon family.
It would be about 10 more years before both the Colts and Pacers made a national playoff splash.
My earliest memory as an Colts fan is of asking my dad who Jeff George was and why he was refusing the play. The team was infuriating and poorly run, but it was ours. Meanwhile, Baltimore was doing everything in its power to lure in a new team, including temporarily joining the CFL. If Indy had a baseball team, or if Baltimore had an NBA team, the matchups might have reached New York-Boston rivalry levels, at least between fans.
Indianapolis had 13 years to grow in to its football team before Jim Irsay took over, drafted Peyton Manning and completely changed the culture of the team. Baltimore had 12 years without football, and it galvanized the community before it was rewarded with the Baltimore Ravens and two championships. Those struggles made both fanbases stronger, made the games more meaningful and gave the league a fascinating narrative.
Without the Colts, Indy would be different. The economics would be different. The physical landscape of the city would be different. They might not have lured the NCAA headquarters, hosted Big Ten and national championships, or brought in the NFL Combine and Olympic trials. The Pacers might have moved; they wouldn’t have built the new fieldhouse. They certainly wouldn’t have hosted a Super Bowl, let alone be competing for a second. Thirty years ago, the city’s transformation started in the middle of a snowy night, and though I wish it could have been under different circumstances for Baltimore’s sake, right now I’m watching the NCAA Sweet 16 in Lucas Oil Stadium and marveling at how we got here.
Soon, the Colts will have been in Indy longer than they were in Baltimore. There will undoubtedly be a moment of satisfaction and validation upon crossing that threshold. Cheers, Colts fans, and may we never be on the other end of the moving van.