Web Exclusive: Jim Irsay in His Own Words

See these outtakes from our cover-story conversations with the Colts’ fearless leader.

Editor’s Note:  A profile of Jim Irsay was the cover story for IM‘s January 2012 issue. Here, some gems that didn’t make it into the story.


You can’t win all the time. You can’t have 25 years of 10-win seasons. It’s great that people here have gotten used to it. But I spend a lot of my time thinking about 2 years, 4 years, even 10 years ahead. I try to get a feel for 2014, 2016. We have to be prepared for transition. Bill Polian has already taken a smaller role. We know Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis … these guys can only play for so long.”

Technology is one way we can improve the fan experience. I
wasn’t particularly aware of Twitter, but my kids have kept me up todate. It’s a great opportunity to do something different and connect with fans. It’s not just Jim Irsay, CEO, Indianapolis Colts. If you want that, we have press conferences. This is more for entertainment, humor, theater. Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s not. Being a fan of Andy Kaufman, I like that no one’s exactly sure what’s happening. It goes hard news sometimes. If you just stumbled upon it, you’d probably get pretty confused at first. I enjoy it. I love to write—poetry, songs, short stories. It’s hard for me to sit down and write long pieces. That’s a lot of words for me. With just 140 characters or less, it gives you the opportunity to write creatively in a very quick way. I’ve done a TV show before. You don’t have to put on makeup. Radio shows are very time consuming. In this medium, you can be behind the curtain and do it quickly.”


It’s a tough situation for Peyton. He’s not used to being in this situation. We rode the elevator together after the Tampa Bay game, and I told him he has to cover himself with optimism. He knows he can’t will his way through this. It’s not like having a broken leg, and if he were tough enough, he could play through it. It’s not that kind of injury. And the number of years he has left is unknown. He’s 35. You hope that he can play until 38, 39, 40.”


I’m really excited about the historical aspect of the Super Bowl. And to steal JFK’s line: Ask not what the Super Bowl can dofor you, ask what you can do for the Super Bowl. Sure, this is an economic opportunity. It will pump $400 million into the economy. But we should use this to leapfrog into other major events. We’re going to be hosting the world. And the weather shouldn’t be much of a problem. It snowed up in Minnesota when the Super Bowl was up there, and it wasn’t a problem. I tried cross-country skiing for the first time! We have a tremendous amount of space enclosed and everyone knows we’re a cold weather city. The league and teams know Indy really well. We’ve had so many nationally televised games here in recent years. And we have the Combine. I think our stadium is as beautiful as any stadium in the world.”


Bill and Chris Polian’s approach to the game is very similar. Bill and I
come out of the old school barn. We’ve both known a lot of guys like Paul Brown who went back to the 1930s, basically the beginning of the league.  Bill and Chris do differ some. Believe it or not, Bill is extremely charismatic. He’s a Rennaisance man. Chris is very intense. I wouldn’t say more intense than his dad—you can’t be more intense than Bill. But Chris doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve as much. I felt having this slow transition from Bill to Chris was the right decision for the franchise. He’s working in a big shadow, and he’s not afraid of that.”


When it comes to my collection, they’re artifacts that define significant moments in history or pop culture. You can talk about most of these people being radicals, those that had the courage to walk outside the lines. But that’s what artists do in general. Most of us don’t want to pay that price, to cut off our ear because we’re in so much pain. Some of the stuff is just pop culture though. Wilson the volleyball from Castaway went for $18,000—I was bummed out that I missed that one. It was quite a good item for $18,000. I was playing Elvis Presley’s guitar a lot, really beating on it, and then I realized it’s a historical artifact.”



When I built my house in Culver, Indiana, I built an underground tunnel that’s like a mile long between the buildings. And I did it because that’s the kind of cool thing you like to find in old mansions. I have kind of a cosmic sense of humor. Hundreds of years from now, someone’s going to walk through that and say, ‘Why on Earth did he build this tunnel?”


I haven’t played the guitar a lot lately. But you go through eras. The
greatest art is through your footsteps—your experience. Life is full at the moment as the family’s getting bigger. I do like to drag it on the road sometimes with me. I love Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Neil is different when he’s playing with those guys—making great mistakes with tremendous passion. I get the guitar out around the grandkids from time to time. It’s so important for kids to be exposed to music.”


In smaller markets, you need to have the franchise tag and revenue sharing so you can compete. You know, Herb Simon of the Pacers doesn’t have that. You have to have competitive balance and run it as a business. The fans know how much I want to win and how much I’ve spent trying to win. The salary cap is at $121 million this year and we’ll be at $128 million. What does that mean? It means we’re going to have to pay that freight some time. So how much of your future do you want to sell?”


Read the full Jim Irsay profile.


Photographs by Taylor Castle.

The cover story appeared in the January 2012 issue.