Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Not your ordinary owner

Younger Irsay brings eclectic approach to NFL

January 31, 2007


— Jim Irsay defies the conventional image of an NFL owner.

He plays guitar, meditates and has a horseshoe tattooed on his shoulder. He considers the late author Hunter S. Thompson a hero and paid nearly $2.5 million to buy Jack Kerouac's original coffee-stained manuscript of "On The Road." He's even fought an addiction to painkillers.

Eclectic, yes, and Irsay approaches football with the same unique approach. The 47-year-old Indianapolis Colts owner wants to win at any cost.

"It's taken a lot out-of-pocket money to deliver, and it's the same thing with our coaching staff and our scouting department. They're as big as anyone's in the league," Irsay said. "But we want to win. Those are the commitments I've made and the leap of faith I've taken."

Despite playing in one of the NFL's smallest markets and the league's smallest stadium, Irsay hasn't hesitated to empty his pockets.

Over the past three years, Irsay has agreed to pay three players - two-time MVP Peyton Manning and Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne - an astounding $203 million through 2011.

While some call it real fantasy football, Irsay views it more as an investment with greater rewards, such as a Super Bowl run.

"To see it happen for Tony Dungy, Bill Polian, all the players and fans brings so much joy to me," Irsay said. "But when things don't go well, the buck always stops with you."

Irsay's approach bears a stark contrast from that of his father.

Most remember Robert Irsay as the man who angrily left Baltimore in the middle of the night 23 years ago when the franchise was considered too cheap to win.

During a 16-year span, from 1978-94, the Colts were defined by futility. They had only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance, including a winless 1982 - 0-8-1 in a strike year - and a seemingly endless revolving door of head coaches.

Irsay insists his father wanted to win and had a good heart, but that he had little influence on his dad.

Today, Robert Irsay still has few fans, even among these Colts.

"The owner who moved this team is no longer living," Manning said after the divisional-round win at Baltimore. "His son is our owner now and I think they're two different people. I never knew the previous owner and everything I read about him or hear about him, I don't think I probably would have liked him very much."

In January 1997, when Robert Irsay died of heart and kidney failure, Jim inherited the team and began his own mission to change the Colts' perception.

Then, just as the Colts emerged as a perennial Super Bowl contender, Irsay's personal demons were exposed.

Irsay acknowledged his addiction to hydrocodone in November 2002, blaming it on several operations and chronic pain. He sought treatment at rehab centers in Indiana and Arizona, and acknowledged during Tuesday's media day that he tried to overcome the addiction by himself.

"You try to do it on your own, but at some point you realize you've got to have help," Irsay said.

Now, clean and sober, Irsay is reaping more traditional rewards.

He slept with the Lamar Hunt trophy at his bedside last week before taking it into the office. With the Kerouac manuscript currently on a national tour, Irsay has only one wish

in Miami: win the Lombardi Trophy.


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