Irsay: Take Advantage of the Opportunity

The man in charge of the Colts, owner and CEO Jim Irsay, chatted at Media Day about what it would mean to win another Super Bowl, how the fan support in Indianapolis has boosted the team, the decision to rest the players at the end of the year, how he has built the team, and more ...

On the team's decision to rest their players at the end of the year:

"We worked very hard to build up that equity of knowing that we had the first seed so we could deal with those last couple of games the way we wanted to deal with them to position us for the playoffs. It takes its toll. If Pierre Garcon would have played in the Buffalo game, and had the same injury he had in Jacksonville, he would have not been ready. It makes a difference. You see guys that have been hit all year that are not able to sustain anymore blows when injures come up. From that aspect, to me, we absolutely did the right thing because it gave us the best chance to be ready for the playoffs."

On if he has second thoughts about the team's decision to rest players:

"I really don't because first of all, we were trying to win those games, but when you don't have some of your key guys in there, it lessens your chances. I really don't [have second thoughts], you can daydream about it, question about it. I gave it a tremendous amount of thought before I rubber stamped the decision from Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell. I knew in my heart that I felt it was the right move. Again, I gave thought to it a little bit, but in the conclusion, I really felt like we did the right thing."

On if the organization needs another Super Bowl victory to be viewed alongside such franchises like the Cowboys and Steelers, etc.:

"From that aspect, there's no question the importance of what this means to us. The legacy in terms of getting a second one and being able to be a two-time world champion and separate yourself form some other franchises that have won one. It's a big thing, and also in terms of even some of your players that are going to be considered for the Hall of Fame when their careers are done. The Robert Mathis', the Reggie Waynes, when you're a two-time winner, it's something that means a lot. This is something that's really big for us, At the same time - I can definitely say this from a personal point of view - is that having won one, you're somewhat playing with the house's money because you know that you have that world championship. No one can ever take that away from you, and I felt the crush and the intensity of playing in that Bear game [the Super Bowl in 2006] for that period. About how tough that would have been not winning that game, and knowing for people like Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, guys who had so much success in this league but hadn't won one. That meant a lot to me for them at the time, being a 47-year-old owner. God willing, I figured that if I live as long as Ralph Wilson, I'd have another 45 years at it. At the same time, no question that you want to take advantage of the opportunity while you have it. I think this could be almost our fifth Super Bowl if we played in the other conference. You have to realize in '03, '04, '05, that we lost to the Super Bowl champions. Twice the Patriots, and the Steelers [one]. Literally, we may have been to four Super Bowls if we were in the other conference in my opinion. I feel strongly about that. At the same time, winning the world championship is what it's about, and I've said it before: you scratch and claw, you're 100 feet from the top of Mt. Everest and you know only one person's going to make it and the other person's going to fall down to the bottom. It's something for us that means a lot to get the second world championship, no doubt about it. Having that first one in the bank, that takes some pressure off, I guarantee you that."

On how the team decides what players to keep and which ones to let go:

"It simply comes to one question, and that's replaceability. Everything is based on the replaceability aspect. When you make decisions, for instance we decided to sign Kelvin Hayden to the big contract last offseason, you really have a great deal of discussion on how you come to which guys that you really try to target. Other guys you're really trying to sign, but you may have difficulty doing it because there's going to be other interest from some other teams. That's the key aspect. It's also based on replaceability, because it depends who you're targeting in the draft, what kind of depth you have on your team at that position, what sort of young players are waiting behind that individual if you lose him. That's been something that we've been very fortunate to deal with. It's been incredible to think about the type of franchise we could have had to top of what we've done – [if we were] back in the 1980's and pre-salary cap and free agency era. When you think about keeping the David Thorntons, the Jake Scotts, the Steve McKinnys, the Marcus Washingtons, the Mike Petersons, and you really kind of feel that you're going to be able to keep all those individuals and build from there. It would have been incredible. We didn't have that luxury, and we've had to work hard. Again, Bill Polian, Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, and now Jim Caldwell have done an incredible job."

On the team's history of not going after big free agents or pursuing trades, and his confidence in the team's college scouting process:

"Again, you have to understand that there's literally no cap room to do it. We've been in the top five of payroll and have been number one more than once in this league. We pay tens and tens of millions of dollars cash over cap to the tune of in excess of $40 million, $50 million cash over cap this last decade. You have to understand there just isn't room there with the salary cap and the restrictions to do that, and there's strong belief that drafting the best players and then keeping those players is the best way for us to succeed. We would much rather sign a Kelvin Hayden than go out and recruit someone else, so to speak. That's really served us well because I really believe the fundamentals of building a team in this league are still the same, and that's through the draft."

On the transition to Indianapolis and how long it took to win over the community there:

"In my mind, obviously we had a tremendous welcome when we got there in '84. When we weren't successful right away it was difficult, and support kind of waned. We stayed the course, and it didn't happen overnight. You have to remember we were 13-3, had the greatest turn-around in the history of the league, had Hall of Famers in Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, the triplets being born, so to speak, and we still didn't sell out the home opener in 2000. Again, it was staying the course, consistently being an outstanding franchise, and doing all the things that really let your fans know how much you care about them. After we won our last world championship, I believe firmly that who else should have a Super Bowl ring besides your fans. I created a contest where we gave five Super Bowl rings to Indianapolis Colts fans, and it started with a lottery where the money went to charity in terms of purchasing the ticket, it went through into a huge treasure hunt by a professional treasure hunt company in Indianapolis, and the bottom line is that in the Jacksonville Jaguar game in our '07 season, we unveiled the five rings to our fans. It was a symbol of how much the fans mean to us, because in my mind, who deserves the rings more than the fans. They represented all our fans so to speak. It's been all those sorts of things where our fans realized what we're about and not just the success on the field, but once you have greatness, you have a chance to define yourself and what you're about. In terms of the humility of the franchise, in terms of the off-the-field things that we've done. All that has culminated over staying the course and really being able to have the incredible support that we have in Indianapolis."

On Rita Benson, and operating in the ‘man's world' of professional football:

"Having three daughters, she's someone that I identified that my three daughters, Carlie, Casey, and Kalen know. There's no question that she is one of the rare breeds coming up and having a big presence in the NFL. Amy Trask for the Raiders, who is not part of family ownership, but whose been a longtime executive. There's been a couple other people, Ralph Wilson's daughter who unfortunately passed away, she was involved with the franchise. She's done a tremendous job behind the scenes with her grandfather to really bring that team and drive that team to where it is in terms of the marketing, and all those sorts of things. I really commend her and look at her with interest. Having three daughters, I can relate to her presence and what she's done."


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\"We worked very hard to build up that equity of knowing that we had the first seed so we could deal with those last couple of games the way we wanted to deal with them to position us for the playoffs. It takes its toll. If Pierre Garcon would have played in the Buffalo game, and had the same injury he had in Jacksonville, he would have not been ready. It makes a difference. You see guys that have been hit all year that are not able to sustain anymore blows when injures come up. From that aspect, to me, we absolutely did the right thing because it gave us the best chance to be ready for the playoffs.\"

\"I really don't because first of all, we were trying to win those games, but when you don't have some of your key guys in there, it lessens your chances. I really don't [have second thoughts], you can daydream about it, question about it. I gave it a tremendous amount of thought before I rubber stamped the decision from Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell. I knew in my heart that I felt it was the right move. Again, I gave thought to it a little bit, but in the conclusion, I really felt like we did the right thing.\"

\"From that aspect, there's no question the importance of what this means to us. The legacy in terms of getting a second one and being able to be a two-time world champion and separate yourself form some other franchises that have won one. It's a big thing, and also in terms of even some of your players that are going to be considered for the Hall of Fame when their careers are done. The Robert Mathis', the Reggie Waynes, when you're a two-time winner, it's something that means a lot. This is something that's really big for us, At the same time - I can definitely say this from a personal point of view - is that having won one, you're somewhat playing with the house's money because you know that you have that world championship. No one can ever take that away from you, and I felt the crush and the intensity of playing in that Bear game [the Super Bowl in 2006] for that period. About how tough that would have been not winning that game, and knowing for people like Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, guys who had so much success in this league but hadn't won one. That meant a lot to me for them at the time, being a 47-year-old owner. God willing, I figured that if I live as long as Ralph Wilson, I'd have another 45 years at it. At the same time, no question that you want to take advantage of the opportunity while you have it. I think this could be almost our fifth Super Bowl if we played in the other conference. You have to realize in '03, '04, '05, that we lost to the Super Bowl champions. Twice the Patriots, and the Steelers [one]. Literally, we may have been to four Super Bowls if we were in the other conference in my opinion. I feel strongly about that. At the same time, winning the world championship is what it's about, and I've said it before: you scratch and claw, you're 100 feet from the top of Mt. Everest and you know only one person's going to make it and the other person's going to fall down to the bottom. It's something for us that means a lot to get the second world championship, no doubt about it. Having that first one in the bank, that takes some pressure off, I guarantee you that.\"

\"It simply comes to one question, and that's replaceability. Everything is based on the replaceability aspect. When you make decisions, for instance we decided to sign Kelvin Hayden to the big contract last offseason, you really have a great deal of discussion on how you come to which guys that you really try to target. Other guys you're really trying to sign, but you may have difficulty doing it because there's going to be other interest from some other teams. That's the key aspect. It's also based on replaceability, because it depends who you're targeting in the draft, what kind of depth you have on your team at that position, what sort of young players are waiting behind that individual if you lose him. That's been something that we've been very fortunate to deal with. It's been incredible to think about the type of franchise we could have had to top of what we've done – [if we were] back in the 1980's and pre-salary cap and free agency era. When you think about keeping the David Thorntons, the Jake Scotts, the Steve McKinnys, the Marcus Washingtons, the Mike Petersons, and you really kind of feel that you're going to be able to keep all those individuals and build from there. It would have been incredible. We didn't have that luxury, and we've had to work hard. Again, Bill Polian, Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, and now Jim Caldwell have done an incredible job.\"

\"Again, you have to understand that there's literally no cap room to do it. We've been in the top five of payroll and have been number one more than once in this league. We pay tens and tens of millions of dollars cash over cap to the tune of in excess of $40 million, $50 million cash over cap this last decade. You have to understand there just isn't room there with the salary cap and the restrictions to do that, and there's strong belief that drafting the best players and then keeping those players is the best way for us to succeed. We would much rather sign a Kelvin Hayden than go out and recruit someone else, so to speak. That's really served us well because I really believe the fundamentals of building a team in this league are still the same, and that's through the draft.\"

\"In my mind, obviously we had a tremendous welcome when we got there in '84. When we weren't successful right away it was difficult, and support kind of waned. We stayed the course, and it didn't happen overnight. You have to remember we were 13-3, had the greatest turn-around in the history of the league, had Hall of Famers in Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, the triplets being born, so to speak, and we still didn't sell out the home opener in 2000. Again, it was staying the course, consistently being an outstanding franchise, and doing all the things that really let your fans know how much you care about them. After we won our last world championship, I believe firmly that who else should have a Super Bowl ring besides your fans. I created a contest where we gave five Super Bowl rings to Indianapolis Colts fans, and it started with a lottery where the money went to charity in terms of purchasing the ticket, it went through into a huge treasure hunt by a professional treasure hunt company in Indianapolis, and the bottom line is that in the Jacksonville Jaguar game in our '07 season, we unveiled the five rings to our fans. It was a symbol of how much the fans mean to us, because in my mind, who deserves the rings more than the fans. They represented all our fans so to speak. It's been all those sorts of things where our fans realized what we're about and not just the success on the field, but once you have greatness, you have a chance to define yourself and what you're about. In terms of the humility of the franchise, in terms of the off-the-field things that we've done. All that has culminated over staying the course and really being able to have the incredible support that we have in Indianapolis.\"

\"Having three daughters, she's someone that I identified that my three daughters, Carlie, Casey, and Kalen know. There's no question that she is one of the rare breeds coming up and having a big presence in the NFL. Amy Trask for the Raiders, who is not part of family ownership, but whose been a longtime executive. There's been a couple other people, Ralph Wilson's daughter who unfortunately passed away, she was involved with the franchise. She's done a tremendous job behind the scenes with her grandfather to really bring that team and drive that team to where it is in terms of the marketing, and all those sorts of things. I really commend her and look at her with interest. Having three daughters, I can relate to her presence and what she's done.\"

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