How Bologna Helped Save a City


America is a nation of heroes—political heroes, personal heroes, celebrity heroes, sports heroes—but its most impactful are its everyday heroes; the men and women whose names aren’t often remembered, but whose deeds are etched in history. And sometimes, those everyday heroes are our sports heroes, whose most important achievements weren’t on the field, but in the streets.

This is the Forgotten History of How Bologna Helped Save a City.

Baltimore was burning. In the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in early April, 1968, the city was in mortal danger. Riots were becoming uncontrollable.

After Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew instituted a curfew in the city and Baltimore County in an effort to retake the streets, thousands of people were taken into custody--so many, in fact, that the jails could not hold them. Police officials decided to detain them in the Civic Center, the home of the NFL's Baltimore Colts.

More than 2,500 people were taken there and held for hours, without food, without a place to lie down, and without access to bathrooms. The hours dragged into days and the detainees grew increasingly desperate. There was about to be a riot inside the Civic Center.

Two Colts players, John Mackey and Lenny Moore, heard about this and couldn't sit silently as it happened. Mackey had spent the past few nights trying to keep the peace in his neighborhood, while Moore had some contacts in the Mayor's office. Since he was a football star, he knew his call would be answered even in the middle of a riot. It was. Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro put his manpower coordinator Dan Zaccagnini on the case, and he, Moore, and Mackey got to work.

The first order of business, they realized, was getting people something to eat. They called restaurants and stores across the city and asked for donations. Because of the riots, bread, cheese, and lunch meat weren't being sold and were about to expire, so they were donated by the truckload. Especially bologna. Every store seemed to have bologna to donate.

The three men got to work making sandwiches. Hundreds of them. Bologna sandwiches for everyone who had been detained without food.

When they arrived at the Civic Center with them, Zaccagnini talked to the police officers on scene and convinced them to finally let people use the bathroom. Mackey and Moore handed out sandwiches and talked to detainees, who couldn't believe that their football heroes were serving them.

The two men stayed and talked for hours, calming the mood inside the Civic Center and restoring some semblance of humanity to people who felt as though it had been stripped from them.

It worked. The mood lightened as Mackey and Moore mediated tensions between the people and the police and detainees were gradually released from custody.

But Mackey and Moore didn't stop there. They got to work setting up a summer program for at-risk youth so that they wouldn't be tempted to commit crimes. It was such a hit that they worked with Zaccagnini for the next several summers on a city program that bused children to the nearby Bainbridge Naval Training Center for sports, games, fun, and lessons about making good choices.

In their own small way, Mackey and Moore changed hundreds of lives...and all because they chose to serve bologna sandwiches.