-- team --
Home Stadium: Memorial Stadium (54,600)
Average: 37,347 - Record:
12-6 - Lost Grey Cup
At Memorial Stadium
1995 - Average:
30,112 - Record: 15-3 - Won Grey Cup
At Memorial Stadium
But Don't Call Them The Colts - Michael
Farber - Sports Illustrated - 25-07-1994
A judge has ruled that, for the moment
anyway, the team cannot call itself the C-word, but last Saturday,
Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was the people's court. Every time the
public address announcer said, "Your Baltimore CFL...," he paused to
allow the crowd of 39,247 to bellow, "Colts!"—and no judicial decree
could stop it.
In case you missed this legal squabble, be advised that the brand-new
Canadian Football League expansion team in Baltimore is being sued for
trademark infringement by the NFL, NFL Properties and the Indianapolis
Colts because Baltimore owner Jim Speros decided to call his team the
CFL Colts. On June 27, in Indianapolis, U.S. District Court judge Larry
McKinney granted the plaintiffs an injunction banning the Baltimore
club's use of the name Colts, and at least until an appeal is heard, the
franchise remains a Horse With No Name.
No one has ever reached for a writ because the Detroit Lions and the
British Columbia Lions share a nickname, but the NFL believes there is
room for confusion in this case even though Speros's team was planning
to use a logo—a stylized stallion's head—far different from the original
Colts' hoary horseshoe. When Speros's lawyers present arguments before a
three-judge panel in Chicago on Aug. 3, they should make it clear that
there is one other distinction between the Indianapolis Colts and the
Baltimore CFL Fill-in-the-Blanks: The CFLs have an offense.
In Saturday's home opener against the Calgary Stampeders, Speros's team
rolled up 398 yards, including 286 yards passing by quarterback Tracy
Ham before he left in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. Alas for
the Fill-in-the-Blanks, they failed to score touchdowns on four
occasions when they had the ball inside the Stampeder 20, and their
defense couldn't stop quarterback Doug Flutie, who threw for two
touchdowns and ran for another in Calgary's 42-16 win. It was the first
defeat for the Blanks, who had won both of their exhibition games and
had begun the season by defeating the Toronto Argonauts 28-20.
Still the scofflaws in refurbished Memorial Stadium didn't seem to mind.
They had football back, even if it was the 12-man, three-down version.
This allowed them to do all their favorite things: spell C-O-L-T-S with
their bodies, make obscene references to Indianapolis owner Bob Irsay,
listen to the Baltimore Colts marching band (yes, together lo these many
years) and display nasty posters about NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Speros, who made his money in real estate and restaurants, was having a
fine time, despite the score. Before the game he and CFL commissioner
Larry Smith rode onto the field on horseback.
But Speros was not horsing around with the preliminary injunction
granted to the NFL. "My attorneys have suggested that any flagrant
violation can land me in jail for 179 days without parole," Speros said.
As a result, Baltimore is the only CFL team that uses more white-out
than wideouts. Speros has had the word Colts removed from banners and
the doors of the team office, and the offending name has been bleeped
out of a commercial jingle. The home opener was also Poster Night, and
in the days leading up to the event, five office workers labored to
cover up the forbidden word on 10,000 giveaway posters. They went
through 96 Magic Markers. "If you kept your mind on it," said Tina
Bressi, "you could black out and roll 50 to 60 posters an hour."
What's in a nickname? Speros had to send out 100 letters advising local
companies to cease using the C-word. CFL Colts merchandise sits in boxes
in locked rooms. Speros figures that if the Fill-in-the-Blanks don't
become the CFL Colts again, it will cost the team nearly $2 million. But
there are loads of illicit goodies around Baltimore. Once McKinney
issued his injunction, CFL Colts caps and T-shirts flew out of stores.
On a cabinet behind Speros's desk sits the most delectable bit of
contraband: a toy Baltimore CFL Colts moving van.
Baltimore does not forget. At 12:17 a.m. on March 29, 1984, a fleet of
Mayflower moving vans left the Colts' training facility in suburban
Owings Mills, bound for Indian police. Irsay was sneaking his team out
of town in a sleet storm under the cover of darkness—"like a common
thief," John Steadman wrote in the Baltimore News-American, which isn't
around anymore either. The Fill-in-the-Blanks brought a moving van into
Memorial Stadium before the Calgary game, but this time their
cheerleaders clambered out. The team is 1-1, but, in choosing a truck
from North American Van Lines, it leads the league in symbolism.
"I was 16, and I watched on TV as the moving vans loaded up,
18-wheelers, leaving in the dark," said Fill-in-the-Blank wide receiver
Walter Wilson, a native of the city who caught six passes for 78 yards
against Calgary. "I had always dreamed of playing for my hometown team,
and that cold night it hit me that I probably would never have a
"That was a great business decision," said Tom Matte, the old NFL Colt
running back and occasional quarterback who is a limited partner and a
vice president of the Fill-in-the-Blanks. "[Irsay] made the right
choice. He had made noises about moving, but everybody—Baltimore, the
state of Maryland—must have thought he was bluffing. It took a piece of
my heart out, but that was probably the best thing that ever happened to
the city. We get rid of the bastard."
Irsay's midnight run was viewed as stabbing Baltimore in the back, the
NFL's decision to snub the city and award expansion franchises to
Charlotte and Jacksonville last fall was seen as twisting the knife. No
NFL city, not even Green Bay, had experienced such a dizzying love
affair with its team. The Baltimore Colts had played in the two most
significant games in NFL history: the 23-17 sudden death win over the
New York Giants in the 1958 championship—still referred to as The
Greatest Game Ever Played—and the 16-7 loss in Super Bowl III to the New
York Jets, which hastened the merger between the NFL and the American
Football League. The players became part of the community, and some 40
former Colts still live in the Queen City. A knowledge of Colt history
was the determining factor in whether Steve Guttenberg's character in
the movie Diner would marry; if his fiancée failed a Colt trivia quiz,
the wedding was off. The couple married and presumably lived happily
ever after, but the city never got over its divorce from the NFL. "Even
now," says Speros, "whenever there's a toenail of hope of getting the
NFL back—expansion or an existing team—all the mental antennae go up."
Speros, a 35-year-old Maryland native, was a linebacker on Clemson's
1981 national championship team, and he lasted two preseason games in
1982 with the now defunct Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Speros served
on the coaching staffs of the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills
before leaving football for the business world in 1986, and in recent
years he wanted to get back into the game. Even before Baltimore's NFL
expansion bid floundered, he was angling for a team in the CFL, a league
desperate to break into the U.S. market. The CFL conditionally granted
him a franchise on Dec. 3, three days after Jacksonville was awarded the
second NFL expansion slot, and final approval came on Feb. 17. Matte
received the blessing of old Colts like John Unitas for the decision to
use the hallowed nickname, and on March 1 Speros sought a declaratory
judgment in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that would give him the
legal right to call his team the Baltimore CFL Colts. Eight weeks later,
the NFL sued to prevent the team from using the name.
"This is not a legal fight we started," said NFL spokesman Joe Browne in
a prepared statement. "The CFL team initiated litigation, and NFL
Properties was put into a situation of having to respond.... We respect
the right of the CFL to establish franchises and play games where it
chooses, including Baltimore, but our clubs cannot allow someone to
misappropriate their trademarks and national identity that has taken
many years to build."
Speros filed to overturn the injunction on July 1 in Chicago, but oral
arguments won't be heard until Aug. 3. Meanwhile, the lawyers' meters
are running, and Speros already owes $250,000 in legal fees. "We're
small-potatoes guys," says Matte of a team with an annual operating
budget that's somewhere in the vicinity of the $5.4 million that
Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. will earn this year. The
publicity for the Fill-in-the-Blanks has been swell, and everyone loves
an underdog, but this is business. You can't expect a law firm to jump
in cold and make first team All-Pro Bono.
If the injunction is upheld, Speros will have to decide if he will keep
chasing the name given to the original franchise by a fan in 1947 when
Baltimore played in the Ail-American Conference. But already Matte has
been urging Speros to consider a different one—the Baltimore Pride. In
letters to the Baltimore Sun, fans have suggested calling the team the
Ponies or the Steeds, and an editorial cartoonist suggested Kholtz,
though the CFL might want to use that if it expands to Stuttgart.
Though nameless, the Baltimore club is not riderless. Speros hired Don
Matthews, the winningest active CFL coach, away from the Saskatchewan
Roughriders, and signed free-agent stars Ham and nosetackle Jearld
Baylis, the CFL's outstanding defensive player in 1993 with
Saskatchewan. And the Fill-in-the-Blanks have some potential advantages
over their north-of-the-border opponents. As a U.S. team, Baltimore is
not subject to the Import Rule, which dictates that 20 of the 37 roster
spots must go to Canadians. And geography will benefit Speros's team in
at least one other regard: When free agents are faced with the choice of
playing in Baltimore or, say, Winnipeg...well, let's just say that cold
fronts won't be the only things Canada exports to the States.
Even before the Blanks played their first home game, Stampeder owner
Larry Ryckman, the expansion committee chairman, was hailing Baltimore,
with its 25,000 season tickets, as a model expansion franchise.
Sacramento became the first CFL member in the U.S. in 1993, and this
year Las Vegas and Shreveport, La., also have new teams, but those three
cities are, in Ryckman's words, "developmental markets." The CFL is
pushing ultimately for 10 or 12 teams in the U.S., hoping to invade
places like St. Louis, Orlando, Birmingham, even Chicago.
Of course, with plans for so many South-of-the-49th Parallel teams in
this pass-happy league, a movement is under way to change its name.
"We'll take a vote by the end of the season," Ryckman says. By 1995, CFL
could stand for the Continental Football League. That is, if no one
By the end of the 1993 season it seemed that
the regard for Ham had fallen a great deal around the league, Don Matthews
knew better. Matthews had been recruited to coach the new Baltimore
franchise in 1994. Matthews elected to bring Ham to Baltimore as a veteran
with a great deal of CFL experience. The plan worked Ham along with
all-stars in Running Bank Mike Pringle and receiver Chris Armstrong would
form the nucleus of the leagues most successful franchise over the next
two seasons. The success would culminate in Baltimore's Grey Cup victory
over Calgary in 1995. read
Mike Pringle #27
In 1994, Pringle joined
the expansion Baltimore CFL Colts. As the
feature back Mike exploded with one of the biggest breakout seasons in
league history. With 1,972 yards he broke Willie Burden's rushing
record that had
stood for 19 years, he added 13 rushing touchdowns. Mike also added
814 receiving yards for good measure the highest total of his career. Mike was
the focal point of the Baltimore offence and the team went all the way to
the Grey Cup in their first season. Only a last second field goal by Lui
Passaglia prevented Baltimore from winning the 1994 Grey Cup. The team
vowed to return.
Robert Drummond #2
Drummond joined the
expansion Baltimore CFL Colts in 1994
– teaming with Mike Pringle to form one of the greatest backfields in
CFL history. Drummond made a statement in 1994 in the Eastern
Semi-Final versus his future employers the Argonauts. With Mike
Pringle injured Drummond filled in and
rushed for 111 yards on 22 carries for two touchdowns. The team had
unheard of success under Don Matthews, advancing to the Grey Cup in
their first season 1994 and capturing the Grey Cup in 1995 the team’s
final year of existence. Drummond played second fiddle as a reserve
and blocking back for the incredible exploits of Mike Pringle. It was
clear to coach Matthews that Robert Drummond had the ability to be a
big-time CFL star.
Elfrid Payton #56
Payton was a force
from the Defensive End position. The star out of Grambling brought
tenacity and experience to the Baltimore front seven. Payton had been the
Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the league with Winnipeg in 1993 and
his presence was a key to the suffocating Baltimore Defence. Acquired
partway through the 1994 season Payton contributed 4 sacks in 1994. In
1995, Payton was a star with 18 sacks to lead the team and 4 forced
fumbles. SWAC as he was known would have a hall of fame career in the CFL
including 2 seasons of domination with Baltimore.
Brigance, 6 feet and 236 pounds, graduated from Rice and began his CFL
career in 1991 with British Columbia.
spent 3 seasons with the Lions (1991-93) and was named an All-Conference
LB. Brigance then joined the CFL's Baltimore Stallions from 1994-95,
helping the team earn a Grey Cup Championship in 1995.
O.J. Brigance said a
better script could not have been written for the 1995 Grey Cup. The only
Canadian Football League team Baltimore had failed to beat during its
two-year history was the Calgary Stampeders prior to the victory, the last
for Baltimore in the Canadian football League. What better way to
break that string than to knock off Calgary in Sunday's Grey Cup game? The
Stallions will get the chance they have waited for since Aug. 6, when they
dropped a 29-15 decision at McMahon Stadium. That day, Calgary quarterback
Doug Flutie threw for 405 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore's offense was
going into a slump it wouldn’t shake for three more weeks. And the
opponents did not exactly face each other on equal terms.