The Baltimore Colts, the laughingstock of the National Football League, demonstrated today they can lose just as easily without owner Robert Irsay calling the plays as they can with Irsay in the coaches' booth.
Before a sparse crowd of 24,784 -- low for the season -- the Colts dropped their 11th staight game, to the St. Louis Cardinals, 35-24. Irsay remained in the owner's box, declining to repeat his performance in Philadelphia last Sunday when he sat with the Colt assistant coaches, donned a set of headphones and called plays during the second half of a 38-13 loss to the Eagles.
"The only thing I'm calling for today is coffee, tea or sugar," said Irsay, emerging from a pregame libation at the Gridiron Club just a few minutes before kickoff.
"I did call a couple of plays last week, but I did not demand to call them. I only asked," said Irsay, who did not respond when asked if he considered a request from an owner the equivalent of a demand.
Making his way from the Gridiron Club on the ground floor of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium to the owner's box in the mezzanine, Irsay, sporting a blue Baltimore Colt blazer, was greeted by a combination of well-wishers and hecklers, handshakes and boos.
Four University of Maryland law students, all wearing "Impeach Irsay" T-shirts, said they hoped to send a message to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that Irsay is the source of the football malaise in Baltimore.
"We're all season-ticket holders, and we love the Colts," said one of the law students, Alan Rifkin. "We want to bring it to Rozelle's attention that the fans in Baltimore are disgusted with what's been happening this season."
Irsay said today he does not remember the details of his play-calling escapade last week. However, he said earlier in the week that he decided to put on a headset while sitting in the coaches' box in Philadelphia because "we got way behind and nothing was happening."
Irsay did admit telling Coach Mike McCormack to substitute backup quarterback Greg Landry for Bert Jones, but he also said he was the one who called a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Jones to Zachary Dixon.
Asked at his postgame press conference today if Irsay had had a hand in calling a fourth-quarter touchdown drive by Baltimore that brought the Colts to within four points, 28-24, with just over five minutes left to play, McCormack said, "Aw, come on."
"Here again, this is a game we could have won. We did it to ourselves. We made too many stupid mistakes," said McCormack.
Even before the opening kickoff, the day had taken an ominous turn for the Colts as guard Robert Pratt pulled a hamstring while trotting onto the field for the coin toss.
Matters got worse once play began; Cardinal Ottis Anderson ran for 130 yards and rookie quarterback Neil Lomax passed for 219 yards and ran for one touchdown. St. Louis is 5-7.
Anderson's rushing brought him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season with four games left. Lomax, a No 2 draft choice who replaced veteran quarterback Jim Hart, was elusive, appearing several times to be trapped by Baltimore defenders, only to escape them and complete a pass.
This pattern became apparent on the fourth play of the game when Lomax appeared to be in trouble from a pressing Baltimore defense at the St. Louis 18. But he scrambled free and passed to Pat Tilley for a 75-yard gain. Two plays later, Anderson ran four yards for his first of two touchdowns today.
Baltimore answered with a touchdown of its own four plays later on a 36-yard run up the middle by Curtis Dickey, who suffered a hip pointer on the play and later had to leave the game. Mike Wood's conversion tied the game, 7-7.
St. Louis scored again in the first quarter when Dave Ahrens intercepted a Jones pass at the Baltimore 14 and ran it back untouched into the end zone. The Cardinals held the lead for the rest of the game.
"It's a very pleasing feeling to finally win two in a row," said St. Louis Coach Jim Hanifan. "Lomax will start the rest of the season. He put the ball on the money. We found out early this year that he has a lot of confidence in himself and he showed a lot of poise the last couple of weeks. "