NFL Team Owner Profiles: Jim Irsay, Indianapolis Colts

Joe BrownCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2010

Jim Irsay after Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida on February 4, 2007.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Jim Irsay

49 years old

Indianapolis Colts


Education: BA, Southern Methodist University (’82), Broadcast Journalism

Where the $ came from:  Jim’s father—and previous owner—Robert Irsay, built his massive fortune primarily in the heating and cooling (HVAC) industry, mostly in the Chicago-area.

In 1972, Robert purchased the Los Angeles Rams and in one of the strangest moves in NFL history, traded franchises with Carroll Rosenbloom, acquiring the Baltimore Colts. Rosenbloom apparently had his eyes set on the Los Angeles market but first he needed someone to buy the Baltimore Colts with the understanding of trading the team back to Mr. Rosenbloom.

 The cantankerous owner didn’t stop by pushing the envelope after the questionable was finalized. In fact it was just the beginning. During the next 12 years—before he stunned the city of Baltimore in ‘84—Irsay Sr. was thought by many to be an overbearing owner, with a serious drinking problem who rubbed many—if not most—people the wrong way.

 Jim Irsay’s father was one of the more polarizing figures among professional sports team owners. His stories were often full of hyperbole and half-truths.

Background:  Pardon my momentary lapse of reason here with the shameless use of a cliché, but, they say ‘the apple doesn’t fall from the tree’.

If that’s true, Robert Irsay is the apple tree on a farm in Indiana but his son Jim is more like a coconut that fell off a Hawaiian coconut tree.

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 Jim’s first taste of the NFL was in 1982 when his dad put him in the booth of the ticket-sales office. Two years later he was promoted to General Manager shortly after Robert lined up the trucks in the middle of the night to move to Indianapolis.

When Robert suffered a stroke in 1995, Jim took over the daily operations of the franchise until ultimately assuming full ownership in 1997 after his father passed away.

 It was clear from the onset of his tenure at the helm that Jim was a drastic, albeit welcomed, contrast to the intimidating and demanding style of his father. Former Colts Coach Ron Meyer once said, “Jim learned at Bob Irsay's knee to go 180 degrees the other way.” Using that knowledge along with a unique and endearing personality he built a culture that galvanized the franchise.

Jim Irsay is a breath of fresh air in a world of stuffy—at times elitist—professional sports team owners.

While his fellow NFL owners would read The Robb Report and The Wall Street Journal, he was probably reading iconic author, recluse—and close friend—Hunter S. Thompson’s “Generation of Swine” or perhaps, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

During away games in their team hotel, many owners are probably online late at night analyzing the happenings of that day’s action on Wall Street and their portfolios. When the Colts are on the road, Jim Irsay may be hearing a knock on his door by hotel staff politely asking him to turn the amp down for his guitar—at 3:00 a.m.

Take a walk through the mansions of the majority of NFL owner’s mansions and notice rooms flush with hoity-toity collections of priceless 19th-century rare paintings or sculptures. Ask to see Irsay’s collections and you’ll see the original manuscript of iconic beatnik author Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. If you’re lucky, he’ll also show you an original guitar used by George Harrison, Elvis Presley or Jerry Garcia.

How many owners do you think have a tattoo of their teams’ logo on their body?

For all of his eccentricity, Irsay knows the NFL as soundly as anybody else, as well as the inner-workings of how to successfully run a franchise.

The recent on-field success of the Indianapolis Colts can be attributed to Jim being at the vanguard of the team.

Even though it didn’t receive much national coverage, there were whispers that the Colts could’ve been forced to leave Indianapolis because the team wasn’t receiving the financial support that other franchises were privy to, mostly from their hosting city’s taxes. Regardless, Jim Irsay wanted to keep the team where he had built a loyal fan-base. He quietly led the effort to negotiate a new stadium—Lucas Oil Stadium—that saw its first game played in 2008.

Irsay and the Colts look to add another piece of hardware to the fast-filling trophy mantle in the 2010 NFL playoffs.

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