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The Colts’ Mayflower Trucks

The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.

Late Baltimore Sun photographer Lloyd Pearson, a travel nut who guessed he’d crossed the U.S. 73 times in 25 cars and was engaged to his sweetheart within weeks of meeting her after their WWII pen-palling, caught perhaps the most iconic photo of a team leaving behind a city in American sports history.

Early during the morning of March 28, 1984, with Phoenix representatives turning away Bob Irsay and his Colts and the Maryland state legislature on the verge of giving Baltimore eminent domain over the team, Irsay and Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut pulled the trigger on a move that would shake up the NFL and help shape its future: The Colts were headed to Indy. Mayflower, the trucking company chaired by Hudnut’s friend and neighbor, offered to do the move for free, enlisting a stable of Sigma Chi brothers from the University of Maryland to pull off the secret midnight escapte. The word got around Baltimore, and Pearson, who died in 2012 at age 90, was dispatched to team headquarters in Owings Mills to capture a scene that would play out several more times in the league’s modern era, but never under such clandestine circumstances.

Wrote former Sun editor Ernest Imhoff of the picture Pearson snapped through the snowflakes: “This single photograph made owner Irsay the devil for many Baltimore fans and the hero of Indianapolis.”

— Robert Klemko

NFL 95: Read the Series