The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s
The grainy image of green and yellow moving trucks, leaving in the night for somewhere--an indelible memory for an entire generation denied the singular fervor of growing up with an NFL team to root for. An infamous night that "froze Baltimore football in time," the Colt's surreptitious 1984 departure heralded in a decade-plus of collective heartbreak for a city that back in the day, was the center of the pro-football universe.
Professional football's rise from relative obscurity to demi-religion can arguably be traced to an index point--the so-called "Greatest Game Ever Played," when our Colts beat the New York football Giants on national television. We have a new team now, but Baltimore's bond with those Colts is inexorable, sacred even--the dirty-fingernail, rough-hewn underdogs winning against and in the most famous city in the world. And on the 50th anniversary of that seminal showdown, Michael Olesker takes us back to the good old days in The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s.
The book is indeed a personal, expansive love letter to the players, fans, and journalists who saw football through its humble, hard-knock origins. Olesker's staccato, journalist's cadence is fleshed out with nuanced reveries--the guy must have superhuman memory--and lots of recalled dialogue that reads like it's being overheard at some windowless bar, the writing itself a throwback to when sports writers and announcers had to create immersive worlds on the fly, before TV, HD, and, soon, 3D.
It's a gritty but tender portrait of Baltimore in the late '50s, examining lofty societal currents like postwar ennui and racism, and tiny crevices of local flavor, like the cost of two crabcakes at White Coffee Pot (75 cents), alike. All roads lead back to football eventually, from the poignant accounting, though perhaps somewhat aggrandized significance, of the great Johnny Unitas' death and funeral, to back in 1952 when a young reporter broke the news that Baltimore was getting a professional football team.
The Colts' Baltimore is a nexus point in time and place, in the days when a pro football player had to get up and go to work at his "real job" on Monday morning, "the only thing went up his nose was mud from the field to stop the bleeding," in a factory city that even now plays second or third fiddle to whiter-collared, higher-profile cities on the East Coast. Thanks, Mr. Olesker, for the reminder.