After watching two of the seemingly endless ESPN “30 for 30” documentaries, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that this series is like a mini vault for sports history. Each episode covers a different phenomenon that rocked the world of sports, changing it for the better — or worse.
I’ve learned a lot from watching two of these docuseries episodes, and I’m excited to learn more as I continue my “30 for 30” marathon. Sitting back and enjoying this rich sports history from the comfort of my couch almost makes me feel like I’m transported to a pre-coronavirus period piece.
Two episodes down, a lot more left. Let’s get after it.
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Band That Wouldn’t Die”
If you take only one thing from this episode, it should be that you should never, ever take football away from the people of Baltimore. Seriously.
This documentary follows a deep-rooted relationship between the city of Baltimore and its beloved Colts from 1956, with quarterback Johnny Unitas, up until 1984.
Disgruntled businessman Robert Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, as he struggled to connect with the Baltimore residents. He ordered that all the organization’s belongings be packed into moving trucks in the middle of the night, and sent the city of Baltimore into what one fan deemed a “mourning of 12 years.”
The documentary focuses on the Baltimore Colts Marching Band and its president, John Ziemann, and follows some of his bizarre (but passionate) moves to keep the spirit of his band — and football — alive.
Ziemann and the rest of the band were outraged by the move from Baltimore to Indianapolis and were determined to get football back to their city. The band, made up of volunteers, continued to practice and perform for the 12 years football was absent.
Some of the moves Ziemann made to continue his band’s career and keep football in Baltimore include selling his wife’s engagement ring to buy new drum equipment and hiding the band’s uniforms in a cemetery to keep them from being moved on a truck to Indianapolis.
The marching band didn’t let Irsay or the NFL off the hook for allowing its beloved football team to be forcefully uprooted. The band members banged their drums and roared their trumpets until football was returned to Baltimore.
After 12 years of unrelenting dedication and continued practice, the band was rewarded with the return of a football team to its city. In 1996, the Cleveland Browns (owned at the time by Art Modell) were relocated to Baltimore, and football was back where it belonged.
The Oakland Raiders were recently moved to Las Vegas, and I don’t recall seeing Oakland-based fans react with the same level of vigor and intensity that Baltimore fans had all those years ago. Maybe this is a testament to the dedication Baltimore has to the sport, or it just means that the “30 for 30” episode is an exaggeration.
I understand why the people of Baltimore got upset, just not why they got that upset. I mean, a marching band practicing for 12 years without a football team? It just seems like a lot. It’s hard for me to get why everyone in the episode seems to have an intense fascination with the Baltimore Colts Marching Band. It leads me to believe that the filmmakers exaggerated, and in turn, I give this episode a lower rating than I gave the one before it.
I’m all for live music at football games — heck, I’ve even had a crack at the drums from time to time — but I could never hold onto a grievance longer than a decade in regard to a football team.
If “Kings Ransom” was ESPN’s safe bet for its docuseries pilot, I can almost guarantee “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” was the shot in the dark. Ravens fans, past and present, however, can happily tell you that sending your local marching band to the mayor’s office to play a fight song is not a shot in the dark.
As I conclude the second recap of my “30 for 30” marathon, I look to the future. See you next week, episode three.
Lucas Perkins-Brown covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].