Jim Irsay: 'We have to play our best game'

Colts owner talks about his team facing the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game.

Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay met with with the media Tuesday afternoon at the team complex to share his thoughts on advancing past the first round of the playoffs to Sunday’s AFC Divisional game at Denver.

Irsay, 55, addressed a variety of topics in his opening statement, first thanking the fans for their support in Sunday’s 26-10 AFC Wild Card playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Thanks for coming,” he said. “Really just wanted to talk about the season, talk about the victory we had on Sunday and talk about the opportunities we have coming up. I’m really excited about being able to have a chance to win a home playoff game and advance and go on to the next round. I think that first and foremost, I want to thank our fans. They really turned out strong and loud on Sunday. We have a great appreciation for our fan base and the support that we’ve had. I really feel, again, having won 14 times in terms of qualifying for the playoffs out of the last 16 years, winning nine division titles since 2002, that we’ve been blessed with a lot of success. That’s something we really appreciate.”

Irsay looks forward to the Colts facing the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. He credited general manager Ryan Grigson, head coach Chuck Pagano, the players and “everyone in the building” for the Colts bouncing back from an 0-2 start to win 12 of the past 15 games.

He then added historical context on the matchup, specifically mentioning his longtime relationship with Broncos majority owner Pat Bowlen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease.

“Pat is someone who is a dear friend of mine who’s been a great friend and an influence on me through the years,” Irsay said. “My family hopes for his continued courageous effort in his battle in fighting the disease he’s up against. Pat was always, we had conversations together through the Peyton (Manning) years where he talked about, ‘Jim, you’re going to get it. You’re going to get that world championship.’ He talked about how when he finally did, how he slept with the (Vince Lombardi) trophy and how much it meant to him and having it that night. Pat’s done so many things for our league and has been such a good friend of mine. I really want to mention Pat in my comments.”

His next connection mentioned was with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, now the Broncos’ general manager and executive vice president of football operations. As most fans recall, the Baltimore Colts selected Elway with the No. 1 overall pick in 1983, but he refused to play for the team and was traded to Denver.

“Of course, there’s historical context with John Elway really taking over that team, along with the great job (head coach) John Fox has done,” Irsay said. “We have a history with John (Elway) obviously. John and I had a chance about four or five years ago in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to sit down and talk about his career. We actually had never met before that. I was out in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, playing golf and he vacations out there some, so we had a really interesting conversation.

“I told him what a great, great player I thought he was. It was just an interesting moment. He’s done a great job, obviously, of assembling that team. They’ve added key guys defensively, pass rushers, coverage guys, also in the receiving corps. We know we’re up against a veteran team that’s outstanding.”

The second-seeded Broncos (12-4) are defending AFC champions and touchdown favorites against the fourth-seeded Colts (12-5).

Irsay then switched subjects to the inevitable hype that will continue to build about this game because of the two quarterbacks, the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, the face of the Colts’ franchise for 14 years until Irsay released him in March of 2012.

“Of course, everyone’s talking about Andrew, Peyton, that matchup that a lot of people know historically the relationship we have,” he said. “To me, it’s been tremendous that my vision at the time was it would work out this way, that Peyton would be able to go somewhere, continue his greatness, continue his career. We would be able to go forward with Andrew. Again, having the type of success we’ve had so soon I think was a surprise to me. To be in the playoffs three straight years, win 33 games over three years, to have already won two playoff games, that’s something that you don’t take for granted.

“This is really exciting, obviously, to have this context, but again, both teams want to advance. Our goal is to win the game. In the end, our players, our coaches are focused on that. They’re focused on it and I think it’s going to be a great game. Like I said, when this major shift, which affected the National Football League in a lot of ways, happened, it was my hope and dream that this sort of situation would occur. I feel blessed that it has. Peyton remains a really dear friend to me. We have communicated through the months. I think it’s going to be a great game and having these two great quarterbacks go against each other at this point in their careers is really exciting. Again, we have to play our best game. I am very happy about being 11-5, being division championship winner, winning that first playoff game, but as you guys know, our goal is to win a world championship. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity going forward and bringing our best to Denver. It’s going to be a difficult task but I know we’re up for it. We came out of the game healthy after Cincinnati. I think that was a big plus. We’re excited and ready to go.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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