The Baltimore Colts next-to-last win at Memorial Stadium
Twenty-five years later, I’m glad they won. When the Baltimore Colts hosted the Patriots on October 9, 1983 (pictured above) though, I was fervently rooting for the visitors from New England.
You see, the history of my NFL loyalties goes something like this:
As a boy born in Baltimore 3 1/2 months before the Colts won Super Bowl V, I grew up rooting for the team symbolized by the blue horseshoe.
That is, until the Oakland Raiders ultra-cool (to any 7-year-old boy) black & silver helmets with the one-eyed pirate holding a sword between his teeth won me over. I mean, how could I go against a team with “The Snake” (Ken Stabler) at quarterback?
When Stabler got traded to the Oilers after a lengthy holdout prior to the 1980 season, I became a Patriots fan. The main reason was that New England receiver Stanley Morgan was the league’s most exciting player in my eyes. My sister even got me a red & white #86 jersey in his honor. (The day I soiled it diving into some backyard dog doo to make a dazzling grab will forever live in infamy)
Over the next four years, the Patriots annual visit to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was my family’s excuse to go to a game. Even in 1981, when both teams finished a miserable 2-14 (Both the Colts wins came against New England!), we were there in the cold for an otherwise meaningless week 16 affair. Little did we know, 1983’s contest would mark the end of the line.
Two days before the Baltimore Orioles hosted game 1 of the 1983 World Series in the same stadium, we took our seats along the first base line to watch the Colts and the Patriots meet in week 6. I was one of the few people inside the “world’s largest outdoor insane asylum” rooting against the hometown team.
Steve Grogan, who entered the game as the AFC leader in quarterback rating, opened the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Jones 9:40 into the action; and New England rolled to over 400 yards of total offense. It was one of their handful of most prolific games all season, and my man Stanley Morgan caught a career-high nine balls for 136 of those yards.
However, halftime came and went, and most of the third quarter ticked away with the score still 7-0. A missed field goal, two lost fumbles, two interceptions and four Baltimore sacks all played a part in keeping the Patriots stuck on unlucky seven. “We felt like the fighter who keeps swinging away and swinging away, and yet can’t knock the opponent down,” admitted Patriots coach Ron Meyer after the game.
New England ultimately paid a heavy price for letting the Colts hang around. With less than three minutes remaining in the third, Baltimore quarterback Mike Pagel started scrambling on a busted play. New England defensive back Fred Marion dropped off his man to pursue Pagel, leaving Colts running back Curtis Dickey all alone to snare a pass 12-yards downfield. Dickey ran the ball all 68 yards to the end zone and, after the extra point, the game was tied.
The two lowest-scoring teams in the AFC in 1983 continued to give their respective All-Pro punters a workout as nobody could push ahead. Finally, Colts rookie kicker Raul Allegre booted a 52-yard field goal through the uprights with 4:19 left to play, and the pressure was on the Patriots. Grogan dropped back deep in his own territory to pass just before the two-minute warning, and got sacked in the end zone by Baltimore defensive end Donnell Thompson for a safety that provided the final margin of the Colts’ 12-7 victory. “They went from being totally dominated to supermen,” remarked Grogan.
Colts coach Frank Kush, the alleged tyrant that number one draft pick John Elway wanted no part of (necessitating a trade for rookie Pro Bowl tackle Chris Hinton), was more critical of his troops. “It was embarassing,” Kush said. “I’ll tell you the joke of the century -we killed them. We didn’t have anything to do with stopping them. They stopped themselves.”
The win moved the Colts temporarily to the top of the AFC East standings, but seven losses in their next nine contests ensured it didn’t last long. After beating the Patriots that Sunday afternoon, Baltimore won only one more football game at Memorial Stadium -the season finale vs. the Oilers- before fleeing to Indianpolis in Mayflower moving trucks less than six months later.
by MALCOLM ALLEN
Two Hall-of-Famers played in that game, both for the Patriots: Left guard John Hannah and Left outside linebacker Andre Tippett (who collected half-a-sack).
1983 Pro Bowlers in action that day included New England’s Hannah, Tony Collins (RB), Raymond Clayborn (CB) & Rich Camarillo (P); plus Baltimore’s Chris Hinton (G).
Other 1983 All-Pros from the contest that didn’t go to the Pro Bowl include New England’s Roland James (S); and Raul Allegre (K) & Rohn Stark (P) of the Colts.