The Night the Sigma Chis moved the Colts to Indianapolis

It’s been 35 years since one of the most infamous moves in football history – when the Baltimore Colts bolted for Indianapolis – but there are many who still have vivid memories of it and the part the Brothers of our Sigma Chi fraternity played in it. Although by the time of the move in March 1984, the transfer wasn’t unexpected, the manner in which it was conducted – in secret, in the middle of the night – made it the stuff of legend. One of those legends – that the move was assisted by the Hell’s Angels – proved not to be true. It wasn’t bikers that moved the Colts to Indianapolis, it was the Brothers of Sigma Chi.

By the early years of the 1980s, the halcyon days of Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones, culminating in a 1971 Super Bowl win, were long gone. In 1972, Bob Irsay, then the newly-minted owner of the Los Angeles Rams, engineered a bizarre switch of franchises and became the owner of the Baltimore Colts. The controversial and often-despised Irsay (whose own mother described him as “the devil on earth”) wasted no time in trying to wring financial concessions from the city of Baltimore and by 1979, was actively shopping the team for a new location.  Jacksonville and Phoenix were in the running, but it was Indianapolis and its enterprising mayor, William Hudnut that took the edge with a “Field of Dreams” approach – building the $80 million dollar RCA Dome to attract the Colts.

And it worked. Things came to a head in March 1984, when Hudnut got a call from the Colts’ general counsel announcing that the Maryland legislature was on the verge of passing a bill which would give the city of Baltimore the right of eminent domain over the Colts. If Indianapolis wanted the Colts, they would have to move fast. Hudnut was ready to move, one of his friends was the chairman of the Mayflower Transit moving company and offered to move the Colts for free. Since the move had to be accomplished in one night, Mayflower didn’t have adequate manpower.  That’s where the Brothers of Sigma Chi came in.

Sigma Chi Brothers occasionally took part-time work with Mayflower to help with expenses, but this job was different. It was a mid-week move, which was unusual, and no details were offered, just that the Brothers should be there by sundown and wouldn’t be back until sunup. Brother Joe Ponzo took the call that evening at the Sigma Chi house and when the Brothers seemed reluctant over the mid-week job and the $10/hour pay, the offer quickly shot up to $21/hour – and enthusiasm soared. “When they said, ‘triple overtime,’” remembers Brother Mark Updegrove, “classes just were no longer of consequence.”

Eighteen Sigma Chi Brothers reported to the Mayflower offices that evening and were soon herded on a bus with seasoned Mayflower movers. Given the covert nature of the arrangements, many Brothers assumed that the work was for the FBI or military. A Mayflower foreman quickly set them straight, “You’ve all heard rumors by now that the Baltimore Colts are going to move.  Well, the rumors are true. And you’re moving ‘em!”

Some of the Brothers were dismayed when they realized what they would be doing. Upon arrival at the Colts’ Owings Mills headquarters, Brother Bill Kynast tried to phone out to alert the media as to what was going on, but couldn’t get through. All the Brothers were quickly distracted by the chance to cop some Colts memorabilia. “So everything’s just lying out: helmets, workout stuff, cleats, clothes,” recalled one Brother, “We were like kids in a candy store.” They launched an intramural competition to see who could score the coolest gear. “Guys put on whatever they could find and put their clothes on top. They looked like Michelin men.” Eventually, the pilfering grew too obvious and Mayflower officials called everyone together and gave them ten minutes to return the illicit bounty or face prosecution. The Brothers quickly shed their gear. “I remember watching one friend of mine peel off more layers than an onion. I could not believe the amount of stuff that appeared – it was a mountain.” Although most items were returned, the Brothers did carry away a few things, like a hat belonging to coach Frank Kush.

As night gave way to morning, crowds began gathering as word got out. In the last phase, the movers found themselves pelted with insults – and snowballs. The Sigma Chis weren’t needed to go to Indianapolis, and dawn found them back at their house. “When I got back to my room, all the morning news programs on TV were talking about the Colts,” recalled one Brother, “That gave me pause for a few seconds, like, ‘What have I done?’” Over the years, most Brothers have embraced their little piece of NFL history. As Mark Updegrove says, “I moved the Baltimore Colts.  I have a place in football history.”



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