On March 29, 1984, the Colts sneaked out of Baltimore on a snowy night to uproot the storied franchise to Indianapolis. On Monday, the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas was overwhelmingly approved by NFL owners at a posh Phoenix resort.
While the process for relocation is drastically different, the bottom line hasn’t changed in 33 years. It’s still about the allure of a new stadium.
The Colts went from an aging, multi-sport venue to an area not known for professional sports but offered a brand new facility that would change the skyline of a city. Sound familiar, Raider Nation?
Back then, the Colts were enticed to the Midwest for a just-built, $77.5 million, 19-story high dome with an inflated roof. It might not sound like much now, but the Hoosier Dome was considered cutting edge in the mid-1980s.
Some believe the stadium sealed the Colts’ move. One month before the fleet of Mayflower vans rolled out of Baltimore, Colts owner Robert Irsay visited the nearly completed Hoosier Dome for the first time.
Irsay was reportedly speechless when he entered, according to a USA Today article chronicling the 30-year anniversary of the move. He was amazed by the dark blue seats and the white roof.
“You know, these are the Colts colors,” Irsay told David Frick, the Indianapolis deputy mayor. “You know, this just might be meant to be.”
Since the Colts’ move, eight franchises have relocated. The Oilers (who later became the Titans) bolted from the Astrodome to a new stadium in Nashville. The Rams and Chargers left out-dated venues for a state-of-the-art facility in Los Angeles. And the Raiders have departed Oakland for a second time in this time frame, going to a $2 billion stadium in the desert this time.
Baltimore, which has felt the pain of losing a team and the euphoria of gaining one back, was among the 31 teams who voted in favor of the Raiders’ relocation.
“Whenever there is a relocation, it’s incredibly painful for the fans,” Ravens president Dick Cass told The Baltimore Sun. “On the other hand, I know the league worked extremely hard to find a viable solution in Oakland and it just couldn’t get done. They were left with no viable solution, and a solution in Las Vegas that is workable. The stadium and finance committees unanimously approved the re-location and I think the league, and we, are excited about the prospects in Las Vegas.”
Baltimore football fans can empathize with Oakland. In 1984, the Colts’ sudden departure left a a football town in mourning. People drove around Baltimore the next morning with their headlights on as if somebody died.
“It’s one of those few moments in life that you vividly remember,” John Moag said. “You hate to put it up with the assassination of John Kennedy, but it had that type of import here.”
Baltimore went without NFL football for 12 years. In 1996, Moag convinced owner Art Modell and the Browns to leave Cleveland as chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Why did the Browns move away from their home of 49 years? A sparkling new, publicly financed $220 million downtown stadium, of course.