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Way Back When: The many 'stalls' of the Colts


It always triggers great memories for Denver Broncos fans when we play the Indianapolis Colts, for it was the Baltimore version of that franchise that agreed to trade future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway to Denver.

While the two franchises have that connection and several others, one big difference is that though the Broncos have had a rather stable existence, the Colts have jumped around quite a bit.

They began play in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946-49. One of the NFL's most formidable challengers, the AAFC attracted many of the nation's best players but could not stand up to NFL competition and ultimately merged with the more long-standing league.

When it did, three teams were admitted to the NFL: the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the "original" Baltimore Colts (not to be confused with the later Baltimore Colts that featured Johnny Unitas and eventually moved to become today's Indianapolis Colts).

We will dispense with a complete history of the AAFC, but I think it is fun to name the franchises — besides the Colts, Browns, and 49ers, there were the New York Yankees, Buffalo Bisons, Brooklyn Dodgers, Miami Seahawks, Los Angeles Dons and Chicago Rockets. The Bisons became the Bills, but after the AAFC folded, they would have to wait until 1960 to be in pro football again, in the AFL.

So that is the group from which the original Colts came.

But after a dismal 1-11 season in the NFL in 1950, the Colts were disbanded.

Then, in 1953, a Baltimore group headed by Carroll Rosenbloom was granted a franchise and was awarded the holdings of a defunct Dallas team. Rosenbloom named his newly acquired team the "Colts" and they were back in the growing sport of pro football.

The Colts were back in the NFL!

In 1955, the lowly Colts made an 80-cent long-distance phone call to quarterback Johnny Unitas and signed him to a contract after a tryout. He took the Colts to the NFL championship in 1958 and 1959 and his passing skills took the entire sport into a new era.

Then, in 1960, the American Football League was born and a fierce competition was born between the established NFL and the upstart AFL. Naturally, it involved the acquisition of players and the money that it took to sign them.

This was bad for all parties, and merger talks began.

To even the two leagues up for television purposes, it was decided that there would be a National Football Conference and an American Football Conference, with the latter consisting of the original AFL teams and three from the NFL.

This proved to be a bitter argument among NFL owners.

Everybody was mad, nobody trusted anybody, except for one person.

Thelma Elkjer.


Thelma was NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's aide, and she was considered by all to be loyal, faithful and true, with unimpeachable honesty and integrity.

So it was determined, and agreed upon, that Thelma would pick three names out of either a hat or a flower pot — there is disagreement on that. Anyway, she picked out Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and that is how the Colts became members of the AFC.

And so it went, until 1984, when the Colts suddenly moved to Indianapolis with the promises of a bigger stadium and additional revenue.

Baltimore fans were devastated emotionally, and remained such until the Cleveland Browns moved there and became the Ravens in 1996.

So the Colts that the Broncos face this week still have basically the same uniforms with one of the greatest logos ever designed on the helmets.

But between their creation as an All-America Football Conference member in 1947 and the dynamic team of today, the Colts have lived in a lot of football worlds.

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