"Fainters," Vaeth explains. "We have a lot of fainters."
Color guard captain Lou Graber, 56, marches with a plastic tube in his nose and an oxygen tank strapped to his side. Two years ago, doctors gave Graber 18 months to live when it was found he had chronic emphysema. Graber swears that he will live to see another team in Baltimore.
In 1984, the football team's first year as Hoosiers, the band subsisted on parades, concerts and pep rallies. But that was like asking Bubba Smith to live on alfalfa sprouts. Band members complained. On the night of the mayor's Christmas parade two Decembers ago, the band explained to Vaeth, "We need to do some halftimes."
Enter Marge Blatt, the cigar-chewing, gravel-voiced Colts p.r. assistant of 11 years. Blatt, who died of cancer last October, offered to use her influence around the league to arrange halftime appearances for the band. She phoned the New York Giants, and G.M. George Young excused himself from a meeting to talk to her. "I wouldn't not take a call from Marge," he says. As a result, the band was scheduled for a preseason game between the Giants and the Packers on Aug. 17, 1985.
Fans at the Meadowlands gave the Colts band a standing ovation. Similar raves awaited the band in Philadelphia that October—to its surprise. "We were warned about Philadelphia fans," says Vaeth. "They boo priests. They boo Santa Claus." They cheered the band, though. "We knew we were over the hump after that," says Ziemann.
Among other gigs, the band will perform in Cleveland this season at a Browns game. It will perform—or else. Blatt, you see, left pointed instructions before her death. "Keep the band together," she told Ziemann the last time they spoke. "It's important. If you don't," she warned, "I'm gonna come back and kick some tail!"
The football Colts have been gone from Baltimore for two seasons now. "I'm drained of my bitterness," says Ziemann. He isn't. With his next breath he's asking, "What did we ever do to the people of Indiana? Let them get their own traditions." Baltimore still hurts, too, but not as much. Hangings in effigy of Irsay are down, as are sales of Bob Irsay dart boards. Like Macbeth, Irsay is now the target of "curses—not loud, but deep." The city has dropped its eminent domain suit. Hopes for a local franchise rest on getting the NFL's nod when, and if, the league expands. It is toward that sweet moment the Colts band marches.
Colts band logic: If we play loud enough and persevere, a team might come along and adopt us. (It worked once.) Baltimore, meanwhile, must be kept warm for that new franchise. The wrath of Marge Blatt must be avoided at all costs.