Colts depart Baltimore in late night move 40 years ago

Colts leave for Indy
Posted at 5:29 AM, Mar 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-28 19:26:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS — With an ear-to-ear grin, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut made it official on March 29, 1984.

"Ladies and gentleman, it is my understanding that the Colts are on their way to Indianapolis," Hudnut said.

But news of the move was already making the rounds. Television cameras were rolling as a fleet of Mayflower moving vans descended upon the Colts training facility in Owings Mill, Maryland. It was the crescendo of a high-stakes move years in the making.

Plans to build a domed stadium capable of housing an NFL team in the Circle City first bubbled to the surface six years earlier. Mayor Hudnut confirmed the news with former WRTV reporter Jack Rinehart on April 5, 1978.

“It’s a dream, it’s a hope,” Hudnut said. “We’ve been studying it for the better part of two years and I don’t have any immediate plans on that subject, but the news has floated to the surface and I have said that iIf we could generate the kind of enthusiasm and the commitment in the private sector that could underwrite this project, I think it would be great for our city and it would help us become a major league city.”

The news broke at a time in which Indianapolis was known as “Naptown” and “India-no-place.” However, business and city leaders saw an opportunity for economic growth — sports.

The Indiana Sports Corporation was formed in late 1979 and the following year, a task force formed inside the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce found the domed stadium project was viable and unveiled renderings on Sept. 3, 1980.

1980: Domed stadium is viable

The city of Indianapolis bet big on building the domed stadium in the hopes of landing an NFL expansion team. The 61-thousand seat stadium was named the Hoosier Dome in 1982 and the roof was inflated in the summer of 1983. However, the building still had no tenant.

1983: Hoosier Dome inflated

But just as things were coming together in Indianapolis, they were coming apart in Baltimore. Game attendance was down at Memorial Stadium and the venue itself had fallen into disrepair. Team owner Bob Irsay began looking for a new stable for the Colts to call home.

Irsay found that stable in Indianapolis.

“He was quite smitten by the fact that even though it hadn’t been finished yet, the seats were blue and white which were the Colts colors,” Hudnut told WRTV in 2014.

So in the cover of night, that cold wintry March, the team packed up and headed east. Colts fans and even some Colts employees were shocked by the move.

1984: Colts leave for Indianapolis

Baltimore’s mayor William Schaefer even made a plea for mayor Hudnut to refrain from using the name Indianapolis Colts because, “there was something obnoxious about the name.”

1984: Colts arrive in Indianapolis

Nonetheless, the moving trucks arrived at the then vacant Fall Creek Elementary school where the team would set up its temporary practice facility. Awaiting their arrival was Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut, wearing that same ear-to-ear grin.