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 chance."
"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."