ESPN 30 for 30: The Band That Wouldn’t Die (2009)

Directed by Barry Levinson

Having been born and raised in Ohio, I know how much football can mean to people. Ohio is one of the fertile grounds for football recruits and my experience living in Ohio State Buckeye crazy (me included) Columbus has shown me how attached people can get. Living in Ohio I also saw the public outcry when Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Living in Columbus I never had allegiance to Cleveland or Cincinnati. Actually I sway the Pittsburgh Steelers way, but most certainly I was unaware of just how impactful a move of an NFL franchise to Baltimore could be to everyone involved.

The Baltimore Colts were a beloved team, and a fairly successful one. But in 1984 the team moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis, where they are found now. The only thing I knew about the Baltimore Colts before watching this film was that they had Johnny Unitas and they snuck away in the dark of night and the light of snow in a bunch of Mayflower moving trucks, but I never knew why, or anything else about the organization. I certainly did not know that they had a band, the Baltimore Colts band. And even if I did I would have never have guessed that they still existed.

Barry Levinson (The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man) directs and brings together some of the members of the band in a few round table trips down memory lane. It comes off as staged some times, like when the old members are presumably forced to watch the Mayflower trucks leaving the old Baltimore Colts facility, but more often than not these interviews are conducted with a great touch, with the subjects dispelling their true emotions from sadness, passion and joy. Levinson, who has some documentary experience, handles the film like a pro, using effective editing to keep the pace and evolve the story naturally.

It definitely helps the documentary that the Baltimore Colts Band is as passionate and determined as it is. Each member remembers fondly what it was like to play for the Colts in Baltimore, and they also remember how every time they see the Colts on television now they have to turn it off, otherwise the memories will be too much. The determination for the Band to get a team back to Baltimore was incredible to witness. They remained for 12 years without a team; a marching band without a team. They traveled to other cities to do halftime shows, including to Art Modell’s Cleveland team. They played the Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH. They waited and held steadfast in their passion as a band and as a city to get another NFL franchise to play for and to cheer for.

It is a strange sensation because, as I said before, I am a Steelers fan. Anyone familiar with the NFL these days knows how much the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens hate each other, so it was almost difficult to see something so positive and inspiring from the enemy, but I can’t help but cheer for this band and this team while watching the film. I have a new found respect for the franchise. It wasn’t the perfect documentary, as I still am not sure why the team left Baltimore in the first place, but for an entry into a series like this, for an hour long feature, Levinson provides an emotionally connected and triumphant film.

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