Baltimore Football History: What A Story!

Baltimore professional football history is like a good soap opera; heroes to love and villains to hate, lots of drama, high highs, low lows, intricate plots, drama, rascals that provide necessary humor, and did I mention drama.

Yes indeed, Charm City has been blessed and cursed by the mythical professional football gods and now stands with one of the model franchises in the National Football League.

It all began in 1947, when the Miami Seahawks of the All-American Football Conference folded, and a syndicate scrounged up enough money to bring them to Baltimore. After three seasons, the first iteration of the Baltimore Colts entered the NFL with the other remnants of the AAFC, only to fold after the 1950 season.

The city proved they were not done with pro football when presented with the opportunity to be awarded the failed Dallas Texans franchise if they could sell 15,000 season tickets during the Christmas season. Mission accomplished, and the Baltimore Colts were reborn for 1953.

Baltimore Colts - A Roller Coaster Ride

The Colts ruled the football world after winning back-to-back NFL championships in 1958-59. The 1958 “Greatest Game Ever Played” put both Baltimore and the NFL in the national spotlight like never before. Baltimore fans were so raucous that Memorial Stadium became known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum.”

The Colts became the only team traded straight up for another one when Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner who had resuscitated the franchise in 1953, traded them for the Los Angeles Rams in the summer of 1972.

Enter Robert Irsay and, 12 years later, exit Colts. Even casual fans are familiar with the video of Mayflower moving trucks transporting the team to Indianapolis on the dark, snowy early morning of March 29, 1984, beating it out of town before the Maryland State Legislature completed their plan to claim the team through Eminent Domain legislation.

Over the next 12 years, Baltimore was used by several teams threatening to relocate there only to cash in on a new stadium deal in their existing location. The final insult came in 1993, when Baltimore was passed over as the NFL awarded expansion franchises to Charlotte and Jacksonville.

A New Baltimore Franchise

The gloves came off for the state representatives pursuing a team. In 1996, Art Modell came knocking, and the door was thrown wide open for him to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.

It took only five seasons for the newly minted Baltimore Ravens to finally give Modell a Super Bowl championship. Led by Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, selected in the first round of the Baltimore’s first draft in 1996, the Ravens fielded one of the greatest defenses in the history of pro football and rode it to the Lombardi Trophy.

The Ravens’ fortunes were up and down for the next several years, leading to the departure of Coach Brian Billick and the hiring of Coach John Harbaugh in 2008. In his fifth year, Harbaugh led the Ravens to their second Super Bowl Championship, prevailing in two of the most dramatic post-season games ever not with overwhelming defense but by big plays on offense.

Football in Baltimore has a history of change. Team colors changed from green and white in the AAFC to the classic blue and white of the Colts to the black and purple worn by the Ravens.

The stadium changed from Municipal Stadium in the AAFC to Memorial Stadium for the Colts and early Ravens to M&T Bank Stadium, no longer in a neighborhood but in the extended Inner Harbor tourist and commerce area of the city.

The heroes have also been quite different through the eras. First, Johnny Unitas, a blue-collar hero in a blue-collar town, then Bert Jones, a country boy from Louisiana who could not get out of the city quickly enough to go hunting or fishing. With the Ravens, there was first the imposing presence of Ray Lewis, now replaced by the dynamic, elusive Lamar Jackson.

Even the fans have changed. No longer hanging out at bars and bowling alleys with their heroes, who were also their neighbors, in the 1950s and 1960s, they don their jerseys and pay for Personal Seat Licenses for the privilege of watching them from a distance.

But the love and passion the city of Baltimore and its football fans have-that’s the one thing that has survived the passage of time and teams. Football in Baltimore, and all that has led to this point in time, is special, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write and talk about it.

Jim Johnson Bio

This article was provided by Jim Johnson.  You can listen to the full interview on The Football History Dude podcast above.

Jim Johnson writes about Baltimore and Washington NFL football history. From Sonny Jurgensen to Lamar Jackson, Jim has witnessed many great, and not so great, football games, coaches, and players between the Beltways, and he wants to tell you all about it. Check out his blog at BeltwayFootballHistory.com and sign up for his newsletter to keep up with his latest.

Please note – As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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