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Archives trace Colts’ move to Indy

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INDIANPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 27, 2013)– Buried deep inside Box 161 of the files of former Mayor Bill Hudnut in the archives in the basement of Krannert Memorial Library on the University of Indianapolis campus is a letter the city’s chief executive wrote to Mr. Robert Irsay, President, Baltimore Football Club.

Its dated March 9, 1984.

“Dear Mr. Irsay: The Community is very excited already at the prospect of the Colts moving here,” reads the letter. “Mayflower Moving Company…has offered to move all your office and training facility equipment out here on a moment’s notice free of charge.”

Hudnut closes the letter with an offer for the Colts owner to call him at home if there are any other questions he has.

Who knows…that free moving van offer may have sealed the deal.

“Its as close as we come to the smoking gun,” said Edward Frantz, Director of the University of Indianapolis Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives.

Frantz has headed up an effort with HistoryIT to digitize 600 boxes of documents and photos and artifacts from four Indianapolis mayors, Richard Lugar, Stephen Goldsmith, Bart Peterson and Hudnut, and post them on line for professionals, journalists, amateur archivists, citizens and fans to peruse to learn the history of their city through some key turning points.

“That excitement of finding something new is what drives us as historians to do what we do,” said Frantz. “Most of these documents are ones that people had never really seen before so there are stories and there are details about how the Colts did arrive here that are going to be available now that only a handful of people…probably half of whom’s last name is Irsay, the other half are named Hudnut…would even have know about.”

Included are press releases from the 1970s announcing Indianapolis’ intention to make itself into a major league sports city, plans for the Hoosier Dome, a football stadium without a tenant built in 1982, promotional materials for a Chicago Bears pre-season NFL game, photographs of a veritable Who’s Who of city leadership at the Colts Welcome to Town announcement and a letter from a disgruntled Baltimore football fan asking Mayor Hudnut to change the name of the street next door to the team’s new home.

“Please change the street name next to your stadium (Dome),” reads the unsigned letter received June 21, 1984, “from Maryland to Irsay. We in the great state of md (Maryland) do not want your city to have our state’s name on your streets. Now, come on Bill, let’s do away with this.

“You owe us one.”

“It wasn’t just the mayors,” said Frantz. “It wasn’t just their staff, but it really was a communal effort and that becomes more apparent as well as you get into the breadth of the collection, you see that public-private partnership that Indianapolis has touted for some long as being successful.

“I think many people would certainly say that signaled Indianapolis’ arrival as a major league city.

“this was a strategy right from the start and the end game just wasn’t supposed to be sports in of themselves but a vibrant city that people wanted to live in…because you wouldn’t have had NCAA headquarters. White River park was a part of the master plan as well.

“It looks like now building the Hoosier Dome and bringing the Colts here was a no brainer but when you go back and look…obviously nothing is a no brainer at the time. It takes courage. It takes leadership and somebody willing to gamble.”

Frantz expects the new archives will change the way historians, researchers, journalists and fans view the way the Colts were brought to Indianapolis and will fill out next spring’s 30th anniversary of the team’s arrival.

The Colts called Baltimore home for 30 years, from 1953 to 1983.

The start of the 2015 NFL season will be the team’s 31st year in Indianapolis.