Lloyd Pearson/AP/The Baltimore Sun
Lloyd Pearson/AP/The Baltimore Sun

The Colts’ Mayflower Trucks

The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.

Late Baltimore Sun photographer Lloyd Pearson, a travel nut who guessed he’d crossed the U.S. 73 times in 25 cars and was engaged to his sweetheart within weeks of meeting her after their WWII pen-palling, caught perhaps the most iconic photo of a team leaving behind a city in American sports history.

Early during the morning of March 28, 1984, with Phoenix representatives turning away Bob Irsay and his Colts and the Maryland state legislature on the verge of giving Baltimore eminent domain over the team, Irsay and Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut pulled the trigger on a move that would shake up the NFL and help shape its future: The Colts were headed to Indy. Mayflower, the trucking company chaired by Hudnut’s friend and neighbor, offered to do the move for free, enlisting a stable of Sigma Chi brothers from the University of Maryland to pull off the secret midnight escapte. The word got around Baltimore, and Pearson, who died in 2012 at age 90, was dispatched to team headquarters in Owings Mills to capture a scene that would play out several more times in the league’s modern era, but never under such clandestine circumstances.

Wrote former Sun editor Ernest Imhoff of the picture Pearson snapped through the snowflakes: “This single photograph made owner Irsay the devil for many Baltimore fans and the hero of Indianapolis.”

— Robert Klemko

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6 comments
JoeKeonu
JoeKeonu

It always seemed to me that the Colts leaving Baltimore was the worse franchise relocation of all as the Baltimore fan base seemed to be amongst the most loyal in the NFL and the franchise was iconic. I think that the NFL should have taken the franchise away from the Irsay family--too bad the Sterling precedent hadn't been set yet.

Rob_Ferrara
Rob_Ferrara

And then, Arizona did it to St Louis, and then St Louis and Oakland did it to Los Angeles after Los Angeles had done it to Cleveland and St Louis had done it to Chicago, and then Tennessee did it to Houston, and then Baltimore did it to Cleveland again ... and the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down ... next ponies up are in Buffalo and Jacksonville.

ScottConrad
ScottConrad

@JoeKeonu If it is true that Maryland was about to take the Colts away from Irsay using
eminent domain then I can't blame him for getting out of there. 

Ronald Zajac
Ronald Zajac

@JoeKeonu I don't know about that, Joe. How about the franchise Baltimore stole from Cleveland?

JoeKeonu
JoeKeonu

@ScottConrad @JoeKeonu  The eminent domain threat was only a factor in timing of departure.  The deal with Indianapolis was already in place or he wouldn't have left.

JoeKeonu
JoeKeonu

@Ronald Zajac @JoeKeonu  It always seems like the NFL belongs to places like Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  When Baltimore moved to Indianapolis, and I lived in Indy at time, it seemed like a loss since the team moved from a great football city to a bleh, unknown quantity.  When Cleveland moved to Baltimore, it seemed like a wash, moving from one great football city to another.  What I can't figure out is how the NFL could have thought that either Jacksonville or Charlotte were better NFL cities than Baltimore

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