The Band That Wouldn't Die (2009)

ESPN 30 for 30 Series #2- “The Band That Wouldn’t Die.”

  • Directed by Barry Levinson
  • Premiered October 13, 2009
  • Time: 51 Minutes
  • Grade: A-
  • On the night of March 28, 1984 a fleet of Mayflower Moving trucks pulled into Baltimore Colts headquarters at Owings Mills, Maryland- loaded up the trucks and moved to Indianapolis- swimming pools, movie stars.
  • When I heard back in 2009 that the second documentary in the series was about the Colts Marching Band- I was a little disappointed but when I heard it would be directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson- I figured he would make something of it- and he did. Director Barry Levinson has directed among others- “The Natural”, “Rain Man”, “Good Morning, Vietnam” and his semi-autobiographical Baltimore trilogy of films “Diner”, “Tin Men” and “Avalon.” I love those three Baltimore films- and the Colts are prominent in “Diner” my favorite Levinson film.

  • What this documentary is really about is the city of Baltimore’s love affair with their football team- the Colts. They go back to the game which is called The Greatest Game in NFL History- the Colts overtime victory over the NY Giants in overtime in the 1958 NFL Championship Game. This is the game which woke America up to the NFL.
  • The Baltimore Colts Marching Band and the Baltimore Colts Fight Song were important to the fans in Baltimore. They were a constant over the years. When the team moved they were lucky- the uniforms were out for cleaning and not taken to Indianapolis. Band President John Ziemann was able to get the uniforms from the dry cleaning company and hid them in a near-by cemetery until the Colts owners wife Harriet told them they could keep them.

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  • A note on Colts owner at the time Robert Irsay. He was a raging alcoholic who was prone to very erratic behavior. A bonus feature on the DVD- the press conference in which he denies any plans on moving the team- is epic. As he stands next to Baltimore Mayor and future Maryland Governor William Schaefer he denies all- argues with reporters and is clearly drunk. Irsay was without question the villain in this story and an entire 30 for 30 could be made of him. There are those today who take shots at Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Browns owner  Jim Haslam, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as being bad, meddling owners- they aren’t even in the same ballpark as Irsay. Irsay was so dumb that in the early 70’s when he bought the Los Angeles Rams he traded teams with Carroll Rosenbloom and took the Colts. Over the next dozen years he took a proud franchise and not only ran it into the ground but turned off the fan base. When the Colts drafted John Elway with the first pick in the 1984 NFL Draft- Elway wisely refused to go to the Colts and was traded to the Broncos.
  • The documentary follows The Band That Wouldn’t Die- they had no team but they continued. They would march in parades, other sporting events and eventually Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell had them perform at a Cleveland Browns game in Cleveland. The Baltimore Colts Marching Bands goal was to get the attention of the NFL- and bring the NFL back to Baltimore.
  • Baltimore would be without an NFL team for a dozen years. The NFL did a very poor job with how they handled the situation. They had expansion but ignored Baltimore- a city that had proven they would support football- a football frenzied town. Over the years the baseball Orioles- especially during the mid 60’s to mid-80’s when they were extremely successful- have won more championships but Baltimore’s love affair was always with the Colts. In late 1995 Browns owner Art Modell announced he was moving his team to Baltimore. Band members talk about their mixed emotions over this- they were hoping for a new expansion team. They didn’t want to ‘steal” a team from another city like Indianapolis had done with them.

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  • Nearly 25 years later Baltimore is now a Ravens town. The Ravens have won two Super Bowls this century and are favored this year to win another. The Colts who left nearly 40 years ago are a treasured memory to the fans who lived though it. A key to Baltimore embracing the Browns turned Ravens was the old Colt players showing their support- especially Johnny Unitas the greatest Colt of all showing up on the sidelines and giving his endorsement. The Baltimore Colts Marching Band has become Baltimore’s Marching Ravens.
  • The Band That Wouldn’t Die- a surprisingly good documentary. Again when you hear a sports documentary about a football teams marching band hardly sounds exciting- but the doc while centering on the band is really about the love and passion the city of Baltimore had for their Colts.

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8 responses to “ESPN 30 FOR 30 SERIES: #2: “THE BAND THAT WOULDN’T DIE”

    • The 30 for 30 documentary series is pretty solid- a few clunkers but even some of the ones I had no particular interest in the subject- they were able to make it interesting.

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