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Worth more than just a “Nod”

Schmidt Aims For Unitas Sack Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images

Before I begin, I’d like to first intimate that I’m not sure what (if anything tangible) I’m hoping to accomplish with this piece. Often when I write, it stems from a bent comprised of equal parts art (the emotions driving me to do so), and science (the structure upon which I decide). This will certainly be mostly the former, so forgive me if I ramble a bit at times here.

That’s because I (and the rest of Baltimore sports Twitter) came face-to-face with something that understandably makes me fairly emotional, even if I didn’t fully realize it would have this effect. That would be a Tweet from the Indianapolis Colts which sets out to promote a new throwback uniform, and their subsequent merchandise collection which fans can shop from as quickly as today:

As someone who prides myself on staying levelheaded most of the time when it comes to sports topics (because they’re well, sports), this struck a chord with me in a way I wasn’t expecting. And to be honest, in a way that it probably wouldn’t have as recently as less than a year ago. As some of you may know, I spent a good amount of time immersing myself in the lore and history of the above franchise in question over that period, focusing on it’s days in Baltimore as would clearly be the case due to my allegiances.

This was all in an effort to put together a six-part podcast series which tells (to the best of my abilities and resources), the history of the Baltimore Colts. For the uninitiated who have interest in checking it out, you can find the first episode here:

But that’s enough shameless plugs for today. I mention my experience with the Baltimore Colts because it’s germane to what I’d like to talk about with what Indy is doing with the above. I grew up a Ravens fan, knew very little of Colts history outside of the broad strokes (Johnny Unitas, Super Bowl III, Super Bowl V, Bob Irsay, Mayflower Trucks), up until I educated myself on it through the process of creating the series.

And it was in the process of creating the series that (at the risk of sounding corny) I discovered this is an incredibly rich, proud history of a franchise that every sports fan (not just us in Baltimore) should be at least somewhat familiar with. Without it, and much of the figures involved, there’s no telling if the NFL as we know it would exist in the form it does today. It’s been since the podcast came out that I’ve begun to realize how emotionally attached I am to that history and these figures that mean so much to the town I grew up in, even if I never had the pleasure of being there to witness any of it.

So you can imagine my emotional reaction to the above tweet, and if I know some of you reading this like I think I do, I’m sure you share in it as well. But to further clarify here, I’m not actually mad that the Colts are running this promotion or that they’ll be donning these throwbacks, but rather how they’re going about it all. Respect for history is great, even if it took place in a town you’re not currently located; in fact this happens in sports more often than you might think, and the Colts organization, still owners of all this iconography are within their rights to put it on display as they see fit.

All I ask for is a bit more tact, in both approach and execution. If you’d like to address and honor the history of the Baltimore Colts, I say that’s great. My issue here is that this a history and a legacy that spans three decades, contains an incredible amount of import to the sport at large, and means one hell of a lot to a lot of people (many still living and sharp of mind) that were around to see it – in that sense, I’d ask for more than simply just a “nod.”

In the video, the Colts media team cut together highlights of players such as Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, and Alan Ameche... for some reason they felt the need to include DeForest Buckner to highlight the fact that these are throwback uniforms, a bit heavy-handed in my opinion, but ultimately no harm no foul. Where this harm and foul in my eyes is the exclusion of any reference to Baltimore, something that’s especially jarring as the video is set over the voice of Chuck Thompson, a name essentially synonymous with the Charm City. In my amateur opinion, the video is well-edited, cool looking and sounding, and ultimately does it’s job, but in the previous respects mentioned it feels incredibly commercial and hollow... Like seriously, what the hell are we doing down below here?

Again, I’m emotional, so let me know if I’m missing anything one way or the other. To reiterate, I think this is a nice idea at heart, but something that’s difficult to execute properly; it’s entirely possible the Colts exclude any reference to Baltimore out of respect or to avoid ruffling feathers, but by toeing the middle ground they’ve managed to show less of the former, and do more of the latter. Especially considering the fact that the very first legend they allude to in the video wanted nothing to do with the franchise after it’s move to Indianapolis in absolutely no uncertain terms.

I try to avoid being naïve and overly romantic in situations like this, and I suffer zero illusions about what the Colts can and can’t do with their franchise’s history. As Robert Irsay once bluntly (but unfortunately truly) put it:

“It’s not your ball team or our ball team, it’s my family’s ball team,” he said, referring to the move. “I paid for it and worked for it.”

This is Jim Irsay’s organization now, and whether he was actively involved in this process or not, he and his decision makers are free to dabble in things like this as they see fit. While I also make no bones about the fact that I’m aware this article will likely never come across their desk, I’d just ask for one thing: If you’re going to reference back to a historic, important, and beloved several decades of your franchise that now hold an incredibly complicated place in the hearts of many, let’s try for a bit more than just a “nod” next time.