Just an hour before game time, as if such a time were meant to be, Loudy Loudenslager pulled his blue and white Monte Carlo into the parking lot in front of the ticket office covered with posters of a smiling orange bird.
In minutes, he had his helmet out, his pennant on the asphalt, an American flag not yet unfurled and Colts banner ready to wave. He walked with purpose to the red-bricked hall, rapped on its glass doors and waited for the person he was sure would let him spend one more opening day under the warm, bright sun in Memorial Stadium.
No one answered his knock. And, finally, when a guard shouted through the door that no one could come into the hall that now only the Orioles call home, Loudenslager found, for the first football Sunday in 31 years, he had no place to go.
"I just wanted to go in, set all this stuff up, and sing the national anthem," said Loudenslager, 69, a retiree who said he had seen all the Colts' home games, save one, since the team began playing in Baltimore in 1947. "I just wanted to sing it -- to myself or to the stadium."
Indianapolis may have the Colts, but pro football has not passed from the fans of Baltimore. Forget that no cars were jamming the lanes of 33rd Street. Forget that no vendors, with either brew or bratwurst, were there to heighten the senses and dull the pain. A handful of fans, wearing Colts T-shirts and carrying Colts paraphernalia, still showed up today for the game that never was.
Bob Rasinski walked up to the front of the stadium only a few minutes before what once had been kickoff time, 2 p.m. A mechanic who has lived in Baltimore all his life, he wore just what he usually wore to Colts games: sandals, jeans and a T-shirt. But this time his shirt was emblazoned with the words he had been saying for months since Bob Irsay decided to pull his team from here: the Colts Belong in Baltimore.
Sure, it was wishful thinking, Rasinski, 31, said. But on the day the Colts were playing their home opener in Indianapolis, they were thoughts worth repeating.
"It just seems so awkward without them," he said. "It took me such a long while to get over it. Then today. It's almost like a relapse. It's an emptiness, a void." He shook his head and chuckled bitterly. "After all these years."
Memories of all those years came in spurts and stutters of conversation. Loudenslager remembered the one game he missed in '67 -- he had a cold -- and the game he wouldn't have missed for the world -- the 1968 NFL championship. He remembered his first game at age 7 and his favorite game, the last touchdown pass of Johnny Unitas. Bill Ruark, a truck driver from Hampstead who came by with beer in hand and stories to share, remembered no times so special, just the days he could walk into the stadium and see a glimpse of those who made the greens dazzle.
"You know, the sick thing is I'll probably be in front of the TV rooting for them tonight," he said. "I just wanted to be here now for -- I don't know. I thought I'd drink a beer and have a wake."
For Loudenslager, the day was one to spend in quiet, a silence outside the walls of Memorial Stadium broken, perhaps, only with a recorded rendition of the Colts fight song he had brought on his tape player. No television would be turned on in his house later, he said, and no one would dare turn it to the channel that had the game.
Those Colts weren't his Colts.
"I've been following them since they started in '47. I started going to the airports to see them come and go to games since 1953," Loudenslager said.
"I never thought this is where I'll be sitting, 1984, on opening day. But, mark my words, we'll get a team again. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But we'll get one.
"And then the Colts better watch out," he said. "Most of the guys we knew will be gone. And all I'll want to do is whip them."