Robert Irsay (March 5, 1923–January 14, 1997), was an American professional football team owner. He owned the National Football League's Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts franchise and, briefly, the former Los Angeles Rams.
In 1972, the Chicago-born Irsay purchased the Rams franchise for a reported $19 million with the intent to trade it to Carroll Rosenbloom for his Colts franchise. The person credited with brokering the franchise swap was Jacksonville, Florida attorney Hugh Culverhouse who, about two years later, would buy the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the financially-ailing Thomas McCloskey.
In a controversial decision, Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis, Indiana in the early morning hours of March 28, 1984. After Irsay's death in Indianapolis on January 14, 1997, the Colts were inherited by his son, Jim, who serves as CEO. Bill Polian handles day-to-day operations of the team as team president.
In January 1984, a drunk Irsay appeared before the Baltimore media and exclaimed, "This is my goddamn team!" He reiterated that, despite problems, the rumors that he was moving the team were untrue. With negotiations over improvements to Memorial Stadium at an impasse, one of the chambers of the Maryland state legislature passed a law on March 27, 1984 allowing the city of Baltimore to seize the Baltimore Colts under eminent domain, which city and county officials had threatened to do. Irsay later claimed the city promised him a new football stadium, something they later denied, citing the team's poor attendance. The next day, Irsay, fearing a dawn raid on the team's Owings Mills headquarters, accepted a deal offered by the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut contacted his friend John B. Smith, at that time the CEO of the Mayflower Transit Company, who arranged for fifteen trucks to hurriedly pack the team's property and transport it to Indianapolis in the early hours of the morning of March 29.
[The state legislature and the city of Baltimore] not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, 'want to see if it's loaded? They forced him to make a decision that day.—Michael Chernoff, the team's general counsel, after the move.
An ecstatic crowd in Indianapolis greeted the arrival of their new NFL team, and the team received 143,000 season ticket requests in just two weeks.
Irsay was a member of the United States Marine Corps. In 1946, he was hired by his father's heating and ventilation business. In 1951, Irsay founded his own business, the Robert Irsay Co., and sold the successful business to Zurn Industries about a year before purchasing the Colts.
Irsay married Harriet Pogorzelski on July 12, 1946. They had three children - Thomas, Roberta and Jim. Roberta was killed in an automobile accident in 1971 on I-294 outside Chicago. Thomas, who lived with a severe mental disability, lived in a Florida facility until his death in 1999 at the age of 45. Irsay, who had divorced from Harriet, married Nancy Clifford on June 17, 1989, at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Hudnut officiated the ceremony.
Irsay suffered a stroke in November 1995 and was in intensive care at St. Vincent Hospital for several months. After his release, he developed pneumonia, heart problems, and kidney problems, for which he was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He died shortly after 10:00 a.m. in Indianapolis on Tuesday, January 14, 1997, with his wife at his side.
|Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts principal owner|
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