Aug 5, 2019
Sportswriter Ron Synder (The Baltimore Stallions: The Brief, Brilliant History of the CFL Champion Franchise) joins to delve into the story of the mostly-forgotten team that revitalized Baltimore’s pro football history and viability.
When the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts secretively absconded to Indianapolis in the wee hours of March 29, 1984, three decades of pro football history left with them. Subsequent dalliances with the USFL’s nominally “Baltimore” Stars in 1985, and ill-fated attempts to rejoin the NFL (1987’s wooing of the St. Louis Cardinals & 1993’s proposed expansion “Bombers”) only deepened local pigskin fans’ despair.
In the wake of the expansion disappointment, entrepreneur and ex-Washington Redskins assistant Jim Speros saw an opportunity to bring the newly expanding Canadian Football League to Charm City as a viable replacement in 1994. Capitalizing on the city's love for its cherished NFL franchise, Speros tapped directly into Colts nostalgia by adopting the original team’s colors, marching band, cheerleaders, fan clubs, and even Memorial Stadium – christening the new club the "Baltimore CFL Colts."
None too pleased, the NFL obtained a legal injunction against the use of "Colts," literally hours before the team was to play its first game. Speros had to scrap tons of merchandise and a sizable advertising campaign – while hastily converting the franchise's official name to the "Baltimore Football Club" (dubbed the "Baltimore CFL's" by many in the media). Enthusiastic locals referred to the team as the “Colts" anyway – which team officials tacitly (and happily) encouraged.
Unfazed, the team (later renamed “Stallions” for 1995) quickly became the toast of the town, establishing itself as the most successful American team in the CFL's otherwise ill-fated southern expansion effort – reaching the league championship Grey Cup final in 1994, and winning it the following season.
Just days after claiming the CFL title, however, the city and the Maryland Stadium Authority announced an agreement with NFL owner Art Modell to move his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Virtually overnight, the Stallions were forgotten, as fans and the media immediately obsessed on the market’s imminent return to football’s biggest stage.