The Baltimore Colts’ 1984 moonlight flit to Indianapolis

Football, NCAAF, CFB, NFL article at Knup Sports

In the early hours of a cold and snowy morning on March 29th, 1984, the Baltimore Colts engaged in one of the greatest acts of subterfuge in NFL history.

One of the things that makes the NFL such fun to follow, is how closely connected the teams are to their city. In fact, much of what defines the character and personality of an NFL is the city it comes from. Whether it is the distinctly Wisconsin fanaticism of the Green Bay Packers, or the laidback tropical temperament of the Miami Dolphins, there are deep connections between sports teams and their geography. In this sense, much of what defines an NFL team is where they hail from and the local community they draw their identity from.

For this reason, if you were looking to make an NFL bet today, one of the most unlikely occurrences you could bet on would be for an NFL team to move locations overnight. This certainly seems to be reflected on many of the popular sports betting websites, with this type of wager rarely getting a glance from bettors.

If and when they do happen, professional sports team moves are usually highly orchestrated affairs. With buy in from numerous commercial stakeholders given the vast sums of money that change hands. Despite this, in the early hours of a cold and snowy morning on March 29th, 1984, the Baltimore Colts engaged in one of the greatest acts of subterfuge in NFL history. Under the cover of darkness, Robert Isray and the Baltimore Colts quite literally packed up the contents of their stadium and snuck out of town, eventually setting up shop in Indianapolis.

As you might expect, this move came as a shock both to Baltimore Colts fans and the wider NFL community, not least because there had been little in the way of a public announcement before the move was initiated on the night of March 28th. This made the sight of movers packing up the contents of the Colts’ stadium into trucks all the more surprising. With the lightly falling snow that night providing a sharp contrast to the hurried movements of the packers.

Despite the suddenness with which the move was executed, in reality it had been coming for quite some time. Robert Isray, then owner of the Baltimore Colts, had gained control of the Colts in 1972 following a trade of his ownership of the LA Rams with Caroll Rosenbloom — the previous owner of the Colts franchise. At this time, the Baltimore Colts were in the tail end of a golden era for the team, having established themselves as being among the best NFL teams during the 1950s. The Baltimore Colts also had a uniquely close relationship to their home city, with the players living and working alongside their fans.

Unfortunately for Isray, his assumption of ownership coincided with the beginning of a downward spiral for the Colts. In the years following their epic Superbowl win in 1971, the Colts struggled to build winning momentum once again. In addition to some contentious player issues, Isray also proved to be a difficult owner to work with and was known for his fearsome temper.

Isray had approached the city of Baltimore authorities in 1984 in an attempt to secure funds for much needed improvements to Memorial Stadium. Unfortunately, Isray’s temperament stymied negotiations and the city authorities turned against him. This was worsened on that fateful day of March 28th, 1984, when the Maryland State Legislature passed a law allowing the City of Baltimore to seize ownership of the team from Isray. This was a remarkable move by the city authorities, and it provoked an equally remarkable action from Isray.

Knowing what fate lay ahead of him, Isray hastily accepted a deal offered by the City of Indianapolis to move the team. The catch was that it had to be executed as quickly as possible before the law came into effect and, even more importantly, before the fans and city authorities knew what was going on. To this end, Isray executed the move on that gloomy night in March 1984.

In terms of the consequences of this move, an NFL franchise did not return to Baltimore until 1996 when the Cleveland Browns secured a deal to move to the city. As we all know, the Browns would eventually become the Ravens and since then have gone on to be one of the more successful NFL teams in recent years.

The Baltimore Colts, who became the Indianapolis Colts following the move, have also managed to experience a decent run of success. Since relocating, they have been able to turn their fortunes around, having gone on to appear in 16 playoffs, win two conference championships and earn a Super Bowl win in 2007.

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