Ravens Strike at Westminster’s Heart
Last Friday the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League announced that the team will not be returning to McDaniel College in Westminster for summer camp, breaking a tradition that dates back to 1949.
The news was greeted with a wave of disappointment and sense of loss throughout Westminster and central Maryland.
In an article in ExploreCarroll.com, Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz said: “It's most disappointing for us in the city… A lot of fans came into our town and enjoyed us being the host city. I know a lot of restaurants and vendors benefited from it. I don't know that anybody's ever been able to quantify (the economic impact.)”
There is no doubt that the economic impact will be profound; however, just as Mayor Utz noted, the economics of the decision is not the only reason for the disappointment in the community.
Many in the area have formed an emotional bond, if you will, with Baltimore football. And then, there is the not-too-small matter of the pride in the community that a National Football Team is associated with our own McDaniel College – and Westminster.
In the article, Mayor Utz also noted that “it's almost more of a blow to the community…There's a notoriety — when sportscasters are all mentioning Westminster as the place where the Ravens are training. Not being mentioned... will certainly have an impact on our city…”
The ExploreCarroll.com article also took note of the owner of the Raven’s, Steve Bisciotti, ties to Westminster. He was quoted as saying that “some of my best memories as a kid are my family's visits to the Colts' training camp in Westminster…”
More on that in a moment, first a little history.
Baltimore football in Carroll County is an intergenerational dynamic that goes back to just a few years after World War II.
Football in Baltimore can trace its lineage to the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and another lineage to the NFL in 1944, according to multiple media sources, my old childhood Baltimore Colts files, from research in 2004 when I found an excellent article on the net, “Life Before Indianapolis: A History of the Baltimore Colts.”
The first football team in Baltimore began on December 28, 1946, when the bankrupt Miami Seahawks franchise of the All-American Football Conference, was awarded to Baltimore.
The first incarnation of the Baltimore Colts won the first game they ever played, against the Brooklyn Dodgers (16-7) on September 7, 1947.
The tradition and history of Baltimore football and Westminster first began when a local Westminster newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, announced on February 11, 1949:
“College Campus To Be Used By Colts - Coach Isbell Expects to Bring 55 Players to Train, Starting in July — Baltimore's football Colts are going to train at Western Maryland College this year…
“Dr. Lowell S. Ensor, president of the Methodist school, and Walter S. Driskill, Colts general manager, have signed a contract providing for the city's All-America Football Conference squad to use the Westminster College's campus as a pre-season base of operations, it was announced…”
On December 8, 1949, the NFL and the AAFC merged and the Colts started the 1950 Football season in the NFL.
On January 18, 1951 the Colts went out of business and there was no football in Baltimore until January 23, 1953, when it was announced that the Dallas Texans were moving to Baltimore.
The Texans were the Boston Yanks from 1944 through 1948 and were owned, according to the article, “Life Before Indianapolis,” “by Ted Collins, who was once a manager for the (late) swing singer Kate Smith… (1907–1986.)”
“Life Before Indianapolis,” goes on to report that on September 27, 1953, the Colts played their first game at Memorial Stadium against the Chicago Bears, winning 13-9. The final game at Memorial Stadium was played on December 14, 1997, when the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans, 21-19.
The Baltimore Colts trained at Western Maryland College from 1953-1971 and became the stuff of legendary folklore for their involvement in the community.
Harry Sirinakis, of “Harry’s Main Street,” likes to reminisce that it was at Harry's Main Street Grille where Baltimore Colts legend Artie Donovan once ate 25 hot dogs in one sitting.
I have fond memories of selling newspapers for The Baltimore Sun at Colts practices in the 1960s.
The Colts left town by way of Mayflower vans in the middle of the night on March 29, 1984.
On November 6, 1995, the Cleveland Browns announced the team was going to move to Baltimore for the 1996 season and Westminster and McDaniel College once again became the summer training headquarters for Baltimore football – until December 2, that is.
The legend of Baltimore football and Mr. Bisciotti began with ice cream waffle sandwiches, lemonade, and Westminster.
From my notes from a phone conversation I had with Kevin Byrne, of the Ravens’ organization, in August 2004, Mr. Bisciotti was 7 years old when his dad first brought him to Colts training camp in Westminster. A year later, in 1969, his dad, Bernard Bisciotti, died after a two-year fight with leukemia, leaving a wife, two sons and a daughter.
But the trips to Westminster to see the Colts didn’t stop. Mom continued the tradition of taking the family to Westminster.
According to my 2004 notes, in addition to once wearing Johnny Unitas’ helmet, some of Mr. Bisciotti’s fondest memories of coming to Westminster was eating ice cream waffle sandwiches and drinking lemonade.
One can easily understand that not returning to Westminster was a difficult decision for Mr. Bisciotti. The reasons for the decision are complicated and can best be found in Jeff Zrebiec’s article in the Baltimore Sun on December 2.
Ice cream waffle sandwiches and lemonade are still summer staples in Westminster; but summers will never be the same again without the Raven’s summer practice at McDaniel College.
. . . . .I’m just saying…