They were the Baltimore Colts for almost 40 years. However, in 1972, Robert Irsay bought them and, in1984, under the cover of darkness they became the Indianapolis Colts, and remain so today.
The original Colts became a member of the All-American Conference in 1946, according to Library Fact Files. In 1951, the All American Conference and the National Football League merged, but the Colts were not part of that merger because of back-to-back 1-11 seasons, in both 1949 and 1950. On the verge of bankruptcy, they disbanded from 1951-1953.
In 1953, Carol Rosenbloom moved the NFL’s Dallas team to Baltimore using the Colt’s name, while wearing the blue and white colors of the Dallas team. Starting in 1954, the fabled Weeb Eubank became Baltimore’s coach for the next nine years, and the legendary Johnny Unitas became the Colt’s quarterback, in1956.The mixture of Eubanks coaching, and Johnny U’s leadership led the Colts to victory in the 1958 World Championship game against the New York Giants. Many football experts consider that game the greatest NFL game ever played, as the Colts won a 23-17 overtime victory. The Colts again defeated the Giants in the 1959 World Championship game.
The success Eubank and the Colts enjoyed continued after Don Shula became coach in 1963. In 1964, the Shula led Colts won 11 games in a row, as the offensive trio of Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry, along with a stingy defense, dared opponents to stop, or score on them.
The Colts first Super Bowl appearance came in 1969’s Super Bowl IV. In that game, Joe Namath and the New York Jets defeated the Colts 16-7, in an historic upset. The year 1969 was also historic as the NFL and AFL merged, and the Colts became part of the American Football Conference of the National Football League. The Colts rebounded and defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, on a last second field goal to win 1970’s Super Bowl V.
Robert Irsay became owner of the Colts in 1972, when he traded his Los Angeles Rams to Rosenbloom for the Colts. The Colts continued their winning ways, and won the AFC’s Eastern Division three times in a row after Ted Marchibroda became coach in 1975. Following that the Colts fell on hard times, and when the city of Baltimore refused Irsay’s request for a new stadium because of falling attendance, he began looking for a new home for his Colts.
The decision to move to Indianapolis was a lengthy process, but decided in a moment. Irsay shopped the Colts and talked to many bidders, but never signed a contract. He talked to Indianapolis numerous times, and had an interest because they already had a stadium. In late March 1984, Irsay found the Maryland legislature planned to use the law of imminent domain to force the Colts to stay. He called Indianapolis and told them the Colts were coming, and to send moving vans to Maryland, immediately. The vans arrived after dark in a snowstorm, but the Colts moved equipment and business records anyway. When dawn came, the Colts were gone.
Enraged, Maryland sued and the case went to the Supreme Court, where the Court threw it out. In a later settlement, Maryland agreed to drop all lawsuits against the Colts, when they agreed to recommend to the NFL that Maryland should have a professional football team.
When they moved to Indianapolis, the Colts started slow with a mixture of winning and losing seasons, but no championships. However, in 1999, Peyton Manning became a Colt, and his maturation at quarterback has meant success for the Colts. In 2006, they defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17 to win Super Bowl XLI.
Library Fact Files: History of the Indianapolis Colts: indystar.com