Grudge Match: Colts Battle Baltimore in AFC WIld-Card Game

After tearing the hearts out of Baltimore fans in 1984 when they moved to Indianapolis in the middle of the night, the Colts have a chance to deal Baltimore more woe on Sunday by ending the career of LB Ray Lewis, who announced he will retire at this season’s end. Indianapolis plays Baltimore in an AFC wild-care playoff matchup.  


Because of their 1-15 record last season, the Colts received the No. 1 pick, which they used to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who replaced former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The Colts also received an easier schedule this year because of their terrible record last year. The combination of one of the greatest rookie quarterbacks ever in a season of great rookie quarterbacks and weak opponents resulted in an 11-5 record and playoff run.

However, the team on the other side of the line will now include Ray Lewis – who has become Baltimore football. This game will be tougher for the Colts because Lewis and the Ravens will be motivated by Lewis’s return (Lewis is returning from a torn triceps that had kept him out for much of the season) and will not want Sunday to be his last game in the NFL.  

Indianapolis is also not without inspiration. The Colts gelled after first-year head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia in the middle of the season. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians assumed head coaching duties while Pagano was battling cancer. Arians left the lights in Pagano’s office on, and the Colts, especially wide receiver Reggie Wayne, whom Pagano recruited at the University of Miami, were inspired.

But if the Colts upset the Ravens to end Lewis’ career, it might be the worst football moment in Baltimore since 1984, when the Colts left. 

For most of history, the Colts were Baltimore. Rarely was one franchise so closely associated with a city. 

It is difficult to describe how engrained the Colts were to the culture of Baltimore; Baltimore was Unitas, the Greatest Game Ever Played (against the Giants in 1958), four NFL Championships, and one Super Bowl (Super Bowl V). How could the Colts leave Baltimore, a place famous for Pimlico and horse-racing?

Fred Thomas, 71, grew up in Baltimore and still has fond memories of the Baltimore Colts. He recalled: 

“Moore. Lipscomb. Donovan. Barry. They were on everyone’s lips during football   season. My dad was best friends with most of the management of that team. I got to go to more practices than any other kid. It was just great.”

In March 1984, the Irsay family, having been spurned in their attempts to get a football-only stadium for the Colts from the city, was facing a bill in the Maryland legislature permitting the city to take the Colts by eminent domain, if necessary. The Senate passed it, and the House was considering it. Time had run out. 

By now, the iconic photos of the Mayflower moving trucks hauling the Colts away to Indianapolis on March 29, 1984 have become legend in Baltimore. It may have been one of the most traumatic franchise relocations in history, ripping the heart out of a city that had fallen on some hard times and sealing its downgrade to minor-league city status. 

“They took it hard. It was very hurtful. They did not forgive the owner, who did what he did for financial reasons,” Thomas said. 

The return of the NFL to Baltimore in 1996 did little to ease the bitterness of Baltimore fans over the relocation of their beloved Colts to Indianapolis. The Colts Marching Band became Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. A new franchise, a new history to be built. Yet the bitterness remained.

To make matters worse, the Indianapolis Colts have not been kind to their once-home, at least on the field.

The Colts are 9-2 against the Baltimore Ravens, including beating the Ravens in Baltimore 15-6 in 2007 on their way to a Super Bowl title and beating the Ravens 20-3 in 2010 on their way to an AFC title. It is as if the franchise torments the city every chance it gets. 

This year, the Colts have the chance to once again come to Baltimore and extend their franchise dominance against Baltimore with a playoff win. Upping the ante for the Ravens is that they will lose legendary LB Ray Lewis to retirement after the season’s end. 

Win or go home, indeed.

So what’s at stake on Sunday for the Colts?

  • A chance to move on in the playoffs. 
  • A chance for the Colts to extend their winning streak against the Ravens. 
  • A chance to make a case for Andrew Luck to win Rookie of the Year.
  • A chance to end the career of Ray Lewis. 
  • A chance to torture Baltimore just a bit more.
And for Baltimore? A chance for fans like Fred Thomas to exact a little revenge on the franchise that spurned the city. 

Unitas and several of his teammates went into the Hall of Fame as the Baltimore Colts, not the Indianapolis Colts franchise. Perhaps this time, their ghosts may spur Baltimore on to a little revenge in the name of Lewis, who will soon join them in the Hall of Fame.

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