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40 years later: The Colts' move to Indianapolis lifted the city and the team

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Posted at 7:04 PM, Mar 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-08 10:03:56-04

INDIANAPOLIS — As night fell on the city of Baltimore 40 years ago, a fleet of Mayflower trucks loaded up everything the Colts owned and moved the NFL team to Indianapolis.

"I really didn't think we would move because it was so late in the year, " said Pete Ward, the Colts chief operating officer. "We had the draft coming up. We had mini-camp right after that. We had just finalized an agreement with Westminster, Maryland, for a training camp."

Larry Hall holds the program from the Colts first home game in Indianapolis.

In 1987, Ward was one of the lowest-ranking employees working for the team in Baltimore.

“I thought it was just a negotiating ploy, all the rumors and the talk of moving," Ward said. "So on March 28th, when Jim Irsay told me late in the day, ‘My dad says we're going tonight,’ I was really stunned."

RELATED | Colts depart Baltimore in late night move 40 years ago (

Ward remembered the Mayflower trucks pulling in to Baltimore and talking to the packing crew that arrived in a bus.

"One guy said, 'Hey, man, is this an embassy?' Because embassies move in the middle of the night," Ward said. " And I say, 'No. It's a football team.' And so that's when, you know, all hell broke loose."

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A fleet of Mayflower moving trucks moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis 40 years ago.

Ward is one of a handful of people not named Irsay who started with the Colts in Baltimore and are still with the team today.

"Mr. (Robert) Irsay was fairly frugal," Ward said. "So, we had a pretty small staff and not everybody was invited to make that move. I was probably invited because I was cheap labor."

Ward stayed back that first night and spent that next day returning team vehicles to Baltimore-area dealerships. Ward said he'd return a car, then take a taxi to get another one.

Ward was a young man who was just happy to be working for an NFL team. He recalled seeing the bewildered faces of employees who weren't making the move.

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Then-Mayor Bill Hudnut welcomes the Mayflower trucks carrying the Colts to Indianapolis.

“You know, relocating a franchise is nasty business," Ward said. "You leave a lot of good people and good fans behind."

Both cities benefited, Ward said. Baltimore got the Ravens in 1996 and that team won two Super Bowls.

The Colts have seen success here in Indianapolis too, and won this city a Super Bowl in 2007.

Larry Hall joined the Colts ticket office a couple months after they moved to Indianapolis. He's now the vice president of special projects and historical affairs.

Preserving the team's history is important to Hall, who said several folks have been working behind the scenes for years to preserve the Colts' legacy.

Hall credits Jon Scott, the team's semi-retired vice president of equipment operations, with saving and displaying 40-plus years worth of uniforms, gear and other Colts memorabilia.

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Colts Vice President Larry Hall stands before the Lombardi Trophy in a room full of team memorabilia. The gear in this room was preserved and put on display by Jon Scott, another team vice president.

And he said there's a digital archive online where fans can check out Colts media guides going back to 1947.

“The first year in Indianapolis, the team had 39 full-time employees that didn't wear a helmet," Hall said. "Last year, almost 300 people work here at the Colts that don't wear a helmet. That's how much that's changed."

Indianapolis has changed too, he said.

“The old adage about rolling up the sidewalks at 5:30, 6 o'clock seemed to be true," Hall said. "And now when you think about how vibrant this city is, I really think that the Colts are a huge part of the fabric that's built the community here."

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.