Saturday's Miami-Cleveland AAFC rather Colts-Ravens NFL playoff game has interesting roots
By Evan Weiner
January 11, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) --- There probably are not many people around who can recall the details of the first true match up between the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens back in 1946. The two teams did play but it was not in the National Football League nor was it in Indianapolis or Baltimore. The Miami Seahawks squad, now the Colts franchise, was shut out by the Cleveland Browns, now the Ravens franchise 34-0 in Cleveland in the first weekend of play of the new American Football Conference on a Friday night, September 6th. Miami also lost to Cleveland 44-0 on December 3 in a Tuesday night football game ay home.
The AAFC played a lot of Friday night, Sunday, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night games that year long before television dictated when games should be played and before Congress banned the NFL from competing on TV with high school and college games on Friday night, Saturday day and nights during the high school/college season.
Miami won just three of 14 AAFC contests that year while Cleveland was 12-2 and won the AAFC championship. Miami’s owner Harvey Hester gave up and returned the money losing franchise to the AAFC. The league replaced Miami with Baltimore. Cleveland was the AAFC powerhouse franchise and Paul Brown’s team won every AAFC championship game between 1946-49.
Brown’s Browns joined the NFL in 1950 along with Baltimore and the San Francisco 49ers following the league’s demise. Cleveland won the 1950 NFL championship beating the Los Angeles Rams.
Baltimore’s football history is very complicated to say the least. The original Colts franchise in the AAFC was terrible going 2-11-1 in 1947, 7-7 in 1948 and 1-11 in 1949. But somehow the NFL owners allowed Abraham Watner’s team into the league for the 1950 season even though some franchises like the Buffalo Bills to name one example had a stronger team and the financial wherewithal to survive in the NFL. Buffalo did not get an NFL team for a number of reasons including market size and climate.
Baltimore “invaded” George Preston Marshall’s Washington Redskins territory but even the mom and pop store NFL owners understood back in 1949 there was a way to do business and it was cash on the barrelhead, Watner gave Marshall $150,000 and Marshall gladly allowed Watner into the territory.
The 10-team NFL grew to 13-teams.
Watner gave the Colts back to the NFL after the 1950 season.
Long before Tex Schramm conceived the term America's Team for his Dallas Cowboys, Dallas was the home to the original and real America's Team, the Dallas Texans, now and the Indianapolis Colts.
Oddly enough, in 1952, the Dallas Texans "hosted" a Thanksgiving Day game. The game was played at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio as part of a morning high school-afternoon NFL game doubleheader.
To understand why the Colts really claim title to "America's Team," you need to brush up on NFL history. The 1952 Texas started out life in the All American Football Conference in 1947 as the Baltimore Colts, taking the place of the Miami Seahawks, who folded after playing one year in the AAFC. The Colts joined the NFL in 1950 but went belly-up, and a number of the Colts players went to New York in 1951, where the combined team played in Yankees Stadium as the New York Yankees.
The Texans rose from the ashes of this team, which folded after three years of struggling as both the New York Bulldogs and Yankees in both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. The Bulldogs came to New York in 1949 after a five year unsuccessful run in Boston where the team as known as the Yanks. The Boston Yanks merged with the Brooklyn Tigers in 1945, the Tigers disbanded in 1946. The Dallas Texans had roots in Dayton, Ohio, Boston, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Hershey, Akron and Baltimore.
Dallas was a big high school and college football hotbed and should have been a good pro city. It did not take off. The Cotton Bowl was nearly empty; the Texans averaged nearly 15,000 people per game in their first three home contests, and the owners gave up after the fourth game. The NFL took over and the Texans moved first to Hershey, Penn. and then Akron, Oh.
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Artie Donovan, who grew up on Grand Concourse, said the 1950 Baltimore Colts were one of two of the worst NFL teams ever assembled. The 1952 Texans were the other. He should have known, as he played for both.
The 1950 Colts were 1-11, when that team folded, Donovan's contract was assigned to the Yankees in 1951, who went 1-9-2. In the Texans' 1952 training camp, Donovan got an inkling as to what he was about to encounter with the Texans when the owners hired Willie Garcia as their equipment manager in Kerrville, Texas. If a ball was passed or kicked into the high grass, the Texans sent Willie to get it, because he had only one leg. The players figured Willie stood a 1 in 2 chance to get a rattlesnake bite.
By Thanksgiving, the NFL moved the Texans daily operations to Hershey. The 0-9 Texans would meet the 4-5 Chicago Bears as the second half of a high school-pro doubleheader in Akron. The Texans were the home team.
"In the morning they had a high school football game and they must have had about 20,000 people in the stands. When we went to warm up, there must have been about 3,000 people in the stands," Donovan recalled in his thick Bronx accent in Towson, Mary. in the early 1990s, after David Letterman "discovered" him.
"Now (Coach) Jimmy Phelan was one of the greatest men I ever met in my life, but football had passed him by years before. In his speech before the game, he told us, 'we are going to dispense with the customary introductions and meet 'em individually.
"We went out and about eight guys climbed over the fence and started shaking people's hands. Then we played and we beat them."
How the Texans ended up in Hershey/Akron is easy to explain, according to the man known as Fatso." The team was supposed to have folded after the game that was supposed to rescue us against the Rams. We played them in the Cotton Bowl and they expected about 50,000 people and lo and behold, it hadn't rained in Texas for about a year and that day it stormed. About 10,000 people showed up and the team folded.
"We then went to Hershey. From Hershey, we went to play games in Akron, Philadelphia and Detroit. I'll tell ya what, it was a great experience."
The Texans never came close to winning another game, losing to the Eagles and Lions. Phelan was fired and only 13 Texans moved to Baltimore after Carroll Rosenbloom purchased the team and Baltimore purchased enough tickets after a ticket selling campaign.
Rosenbloom would keep the franchise until July 13, 1972. In a tax deal, Rosenbloom traded his ownership in the Baltimore Colts in exchange for Robert Irsay's Los Angeles Rams, a franchise that started out as the Cleveland Rams in 1937 and moved to LA in 1946. Within five years, Irsay was looking for a new stadium and ended up moving the Colts to Indianapolis under the cover of darkness on March 29, 1984.
It seemed appropriate given the history of the franchise. Rosenbloom also had a lot of nomad in him. In 1980, he moved his Los Angeles Rams to Anaheim. In 1995, Rosenbloom's window Georgia Frontiere took the Rams to St. Louis. Irsay began looking at relocating the Colts in the 1970s. He visited Jacksonville and wanted the city to rebuild the Gator Bowl. Jacksonville would be just that in the early 1990s. He visited Memphis, toyed with Phoenix and even thought about filling the vacancy at the Los Angeles Coliseum after Carroll Rosenbloom took an offer from Anaheim to move the Rams after the 1979 season.
In the middle of a March 29, 1984 night during a snow storm in Baltimore, Irsay brought in Mayflower moving vans to the club’s training facility and within Colts equipment and recordswere headed west on Interstate 70. As soon as the vans left Maryland, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut announced the move. The Maryland Legislature was working on a bill that would permit the Colts to be seized by eminent domain.
"I was watching TV and happened to be flicking through and a station over in DC had picked it up first and they were talking about how one of their reliable sources told them the Colts were going to be moving that night and they had sent a camera crew over there and the guy on TV said hold it the guys from the Mayflower Vans were there," recalled Nesby Glasgow, a Colts defensive back. "We will be showing footage as soon as we get it. So it was about 10:30 and I kept it on there.
"Sure enough, they showed the trucks packing everything up. The stations in Baltimore didn't even get news of it until after the fact. So what I did was call a lot of my teammates and said we are going to have a new address. Instead of going to Baltimore, we are going to be in Indianapolis. Most of them didn't believe me."
Glasgow said it was a rainy/snowy night and his first thoughts were with the people who were losing their jobs as a result of Irsay's decision.
"They had stuff everywhere and the one thing I remember about it and that saddened me about the whole deal was a lot of the people who worked there, they had taken a lot of their personal thing and packed them up and shipped them out to Indianapolis," he said. "And I saw some of the ladies the next day and, or course, they were in tears. Some of them had worked with the organization more than 10 years. To have something like that happen and not know anything about it....
"The biggest thing that upset them that a lot of their personal belongings, things that were dear to them were taken. That's probably the one thing that bothered me most about the whole situation."
Glasgow became a member of the Colts the year before and was planning to become a big part of the community. When he signed, he asked the General Manager Ernie Accorsi if the team was planning to move.
"He assured me that he was not going anywhere and the team was going wasn't going anywhere," Glasgow stated. "He was halfway right, he stayed but the team went to Indy. We were shocked"
Glasgow and a couple of his teammates went to the Colts training facilities in Owing Mills and found their lockers were empty and the equipment was gone.
"The Colts used the cover of the night and got out of town, but that was the only way they could do it. If they waited until the daytime, I am sure they would have put an injunction on the team to prevent him from moving the team to Indianapolis. So he had to do it as quick as he possible could if he wanted to make that move," Glasgow said. "People couldn't stand the owner. They liked the Colts but they hated Robert Irsay. That's all you heard when I lived there for the one year.
"They wanted the team without the owner but they couldn't have it that way. It was his team and they had to accept him as owner. The community never really did that and never did anything to appease him and to make him feel like hey they wanted him to stay in town. So he made a business decision.
"I'm not going to sit here and fault him. Let's face it; Indianapolis gave him everything he wanted. The deal was so sweet; he couldn't afford to pass it up. He had to do what he had to do."
Glasgow was able to sell his townhouse by June and set up shop in Indianapolis. His teammates were not able to sell their properties that quickly. Irsay's family wasn’t happy with the terms of the deal by the mid-1990s and was rumored to be on the move to Cleveland or other cities before signing a new lease arrangement in Indianapolis.
Baltimore applied for an NFL expansion team in the early 1990s, but Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was not pushing to put a team back in the city and Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke liked having the territory to himself, just like George Preston Marshall back in the late 1940s. The league ultimately picked Charlotte as the league’s 29th franchise and Jacksonville as the 30th team in 1993 and left the Baltimore, St. Louis and Memphis’s bid on the table.
Cleveland’s owner Art Modell, who was in dire financial straits and was frustrated by Cleveland city officials lack of movement in building his Browns a new stadium and giving money for a new baseball stadium, a new arena and the Rock and Roll hall of Fame revisited Baltimore’s expansion proposal. In 1995, Modell agreed to terms with Maryland to move his Browns to Baltimore although he “agreed” to leave the Browns record book and colors behind in Cleveland.
Modell’s departure also spawned a threatened lawsuit from Cleveland elected officials. The NFL and Cleveland quickly came together on a stadium plan and the Browns “rejoined” the NFL in 1999 complete with Modell’s old colors and Modell’s record book.
In Baltimore and in Indianapolis there will be references to the Colts once playing in Baltimore but in the business and politics of the NFL and sports it is just the tip of the iceberg. Indianapolis’s roots go back to the Dayton Triangles, a team which started play in 1913 and joined the American Professional Football Association in 1920 when $100 down bought someone a professional football franchise. That league was renamed the National Football League in 1922.
In July 1930, Brooklyn’s William Dwyer purchased the Triangles and moved the team to Ebbets Field. The version of the Brooklyn Dodgers ended up in the AAFC in 1946. That franchise was not successful but out of the ashes of the AAFC Dodgers came an idea from the team’s general manager Branch Rickey in the late 1950s that was co-opted by a young Dallas businessman named Lamar Hunt. Rickey, who was a baseball executive who moonlighted in football, wanted to start a third major league in baseball that featured television revenue sharing. Hunt was uninterested in owning a Dallas-based Continental Baseball League franchise as he was pursuing an NFL franchise for the city. Hunt never got an NFL team and formed the American Football League which borrowed from Rickey’s Continental Baseball League business model.
National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle would use Rickey’s formula, which in NFL circles was “leaguethink,” to propel the league into becoming a mega business.
The background story of the Baltimore-Indianapolis match up started in 1946 in a different league in different cities but it illustrates how the NFL became the NFL through a series of happenstances rather than a solid business model.