Jim Irsay looked healthier than we’ve seen him in a long time.
His face had color and fullness. He spoke with conviction and perspective — granted, with the usual “ums” — but the Indianapolis Colts owner & CEO didn’t seem to stammer as much. Trust me, I’ve counted those “ums” in interviews past. It didn’t sound like such a struggle to choose the right words to express himself.
We’ll probably never know why Irsay decided to meet with the media Tuesday afternoon at the Colts complex. The email advisory was sent out in the morning and reporters scrambled to attend. This doesn’t happen every day and when one of the NFL’s 32 principal shareholders decides to chat, you come running.
I’m guessing Irsay wasn’t standing at that lectern to provide physical proof that he’s made promising progress in his much-publicized, longtime addiction to prescription medication. But that’s the first thing I took away from seeing him. He didn’t look like the same guy suspended for the initial six games of the NFL season as a result of a driving-while-under-the-influence conviction.
Before, Irsay didn’t look his age. How many times did you say or think 55 looked like 75? He had undergone a hip replacement, which explains the limp, but the man had the appearance of someone living a pained existence. I’m not trying to pardon him for anything, but we’ll probably never understand how painfully excruciating his trials and tribulations have been.
Some wondered if this visit would involve breaking news, but that didn’t make sense. Irsay wouldn’t want to be a distraction as his team prepares to fly to Colorado for Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
But I will say this. He understands the importance of interacting with the media. And he realizes on Wednesday that TV cameras and recorders will be fixed on players, particularly Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Folks can argue until the end of time about Manning’s place among the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, but I’ve never seen an athlete so keenly aware of how to work the media.
So it made sense that Irsay would come out and share his thoughts, if for no other reason than to give the Colts some pub on a slow news day.
Then again, maybe the man was just excited about his team. Maybe he just wanted to talk about football in January, when the stakes are the highest and national interest accelerates to a 24/7 frenzy of hype, analysis and never-ending discussion on social media.
Irsay “definitely” thinks his Colts are the best they’ve been in three years since starting anew in 2012 with general manager Ryan Grigson, head coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck, among others. That’s subject to debate, of course, considering the Colts beat the Cincinnati Bengals twice but went 1-4 against other playoff qualifiers.
Even if you’re among those who aren’t buying what he was selling, Irsay acknowledged what everyone expects each year. It’s about hoisting that Vince Lombardi Trophy. And when chatting about the past, he repeated the observation that he wished the Colts would have won more than one Super Bowl in the Manning Era.
He also repeated a popular contention that the Colts’ 2005 team was the best of that era, going as far as to say it was one of the finest and most complete teams in NFL history. We can’t see it that way because of a stunning AFC Divisional playoff home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But I know former head coach Tony Dungy and players from that team have told me without hesitation that was the best Colts team.
The promise of this new era has a lot to do with Luck, of course. And Irsay’s energy level seemed to soar when he gushed about his third-year quarterback. He mentioned the obvious, about how his franchise was so fortunate to go from Peyton to Andrew after one forgettable 2-14 debacle in 2011. It’s amusing that the owner still recalled Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew gaining a first down in that season’s finale to ensure a Colts loss and earning the rights to the No. 1 overall draft pick used to select Luck.
“I’d like to think the Horseshoe’s lucky,” Irsay said. “It has been at least in terms of quarterbacks for us lately.”
He spoke for 26 minutes and change. I split up his conversation into several videos so fans could watch the stuff that seemed to matter most.
Irsay concluded with more talk about Luck, saying what many of us (myself included) have suggested about the three-time Pro Bowl star, “I really think the best is yet to come with him.”
Then it was time to go.
“Thank you, guys,” he said. “I appreciate it. We’re excited for the opportunity. So good to see you.”
More importantly than any football talk, it was good to see him look healthier, happier and eager about the future.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.