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(Originally published on March 28, 2011.)

Twenty-seven years ago today I awoke to see my father crying in my kitchen in Dundalk. It was one of two times that I ever saw him cry. The Baltimore Colts’ infamous ride of the Mayflowers out west on I-70 just two months after I started interning at The News American defined the end of my childhood at 15 and the beginning of my lifelong education about money and the real world of sports for the remainder of my sports fan and business life as a journalist.

It’s been a tumultuous quarter of a century plus a year for my feelings of anger, anguish, desperation, loss and bad vibes about the Colts leaving Baltimore on March 28, 1984. My Pop died in 1992 and never got to see the Ravens come back to town to avenge the loss of the horseshoe. I never got to go to one more football game with my father. And over the years, it’s really been a civic badge of honor to hate on all things Irsay and Indianapolis.

  1. I’ve been to Indianapolis more times than I can count since 1996 – always for a football game or the annual March combine. There’s never been a time that it hasn’t taken me 15 minutes on the ground there to get ill seeing the horseshoes and “Go Colts” kind of marketing that is ubiquitous in Indy from the minute you land at the airport. It drives my wife batty — my almost irrational instant anger, ranting and self-inflicted torture when I’m in Indianapolis. I’ve always figured that I’d proudly be like the old dudes in Brooklyn, still pining away about the Dodgers 50 years later.

Here’s an example:

It’s taken me years of internal therapy and self soothing to calm myself when I see the game day experience there in Indy as those Midwestern hillbillies parade around in my father’s stolen laundry. In many ways, our “friend” Merton From Indianapolis (and no, none of us has any idea who he is or where the whole gimmick started – honest to God!) sort of exemplifies the entire experience of dealing with their fans when you travel to the “friendly heartland.”

My loathing of all things Irsay and Indianapolis is a bit legendary – there are plenty of pictures of me carrying Bob Irsay’s head on a stick through the streets of Indy — and my rants and raves throughout the 1990s are all very “on the record” and still accurate. What happened to this community at the hands of Bob Irsay and how I saw it affect my father and the psyche of the citizenry here will never been forgotten. The degrading and demoralizing “begging” to get back into the league that fell on Herb Belgrad. Paul Tagliabue’s “build a museum” expansion declaration in Chicago. All of it…I’ll remember those feelings and emotions for the rest of my life. Most Baltimoreans older than me — and I was born in 1968 – still can’t begin to imagine a world without the Colts of that generation. If you’re from Baltimore, sports is etched into your DNA.

(And if you doubt those feelings, imagine how you’d feel if the Ravens packed up and left tomorrow morning and never played another game here? For you young’ins that’s essentially what happened here in 1984…)

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But after long and careful consideration – and as today’s 26th anniversary of the dastardly deed approached — I’ve decided that I need to move on from those feelings about the Irsay family and the whole “Baltimore needs to get even with Indianapolis” feelings of Mayflowers and drunk press conferences and dread and anger. I just can’t carry this with me for the rest of my life and approaching my 42nd birthday I have a myriad of reasons to have reached this enlightened state of maturity.

Jimmy Irsay didn’t move the Baltimore Colts. Bob Irsay moved “the goddamn team.” And Jimmy Irsay shouldn’t have to live in the shadow of his father any more than my son should have to pay for any of my sins – real or imagined. And Bob Irsay has been dead since 1997. And we have our own purple football team here that has restored and replaced any football tradition built here by my father and his generation and I wouldn’t trade it for any blue horseshoe at this point in the game, circa 2010.

All of that is the “logical” side. I’m very pragmatic on most issues and it’s time that I healed this wound with the gift of forgiveness.

Again, I was there in 1996 with his father’s head on a stick. What’s left of it resides at the front bar at Nacho Mamas in Canton. I have a mini Bob dummy, also made by my multi-talented and humorous lifelong friend Mike Ricigliano, who carted the original Big Bob dummy through the upper deck at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia in 1984. I took the mini dummy Bob Irsay to Indianapolis – TWICE – to try to put a hex on the Colts. The mini Bob sat on the lap of Leigh Steinberg and Don Shula in Miami in 2007, and that didn’t work, either.

Mini Bob

And to add insult to injury, the Colts and the city of Indianapolis and the Irsay family got a Super Bowl ring that week. They also have the best quarterback who has ever played the game and they have the Ravens’ number of late, which is the real reason I shouldn’t like them.

To say that I’ve invested a lot of emotion in this rivalry – and it kinda goes beyond that a little for me, more like an obsession – would be an understatement.

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Earlier this week, I spent some quality time with Jim Irsay at the owner’s meetings in Orlando, Fla. It’s the second time over the past few years that I’ve gotten to chat at length with the son of Robert Irsay, who is a congenial and thoughtful man at the age of 50.

So, there I was hanging out with Jim Irsay, who upon each meeting has been a complete and total gentleman, good guy and dignified soul. He agreed to sit with me to discuss my book on coaching and leadership after initially turning me down. I’ve been touring the country over the past month talking to a variety of Baltimore sports figures and it’s been a spiritual journey for me in many ways chatting with all of these incredible people who have passed through Baltimore and carry the soil with them on their life’s journey. So far the initial list and interviews have been impressive: Mike Smith, Mark Shapiro, Frank Kush, Jim Fassel, Marvin Lewis, Jim Schwartz, John Scheurholz, Sam Perlozzo, Bruce Manno, Jack Del Rio, Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Singletary have spent anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours with me discussing their life’s lessons in coaching and leadership. Roger Goodell, Don Shula, Brian Billick, Eric Mangini, Jerry Richardson, Howard Schnellenberger and dozens of others have all agreed to sit with me for the book.

I chased Irsay down purely on sight at the owner’s meetings on Monday. He was walking through the hall talking to the media and I caught his ear. He remembered me from our hour-long walk on a veranda at the Biltmore in Arizona three years ago, just after he’d won the Super Bowl. Steve Bisciotti knew that I wanted to approach Jim Irsay about the Colts records and arranged time for me to chat with him.

To be honest, it was the coolest hour of my journalist life, being with Jim Irsay on that deck talking about my father and the Colts and how much the records and history mean to the people of Baltimore. For the record — and I’ll make a long conversation short here — Jim Irsay agreed to do whatever necessary to restore the Colts’ pre-Indianapolis heritage to become a part of the Ravens’ Baltimore past if the Pro Football Hall of Fame were amenable and told me so three years ago. Essentially putting the Baltimore records back in Baltimore.

Honest to God, the owners have nothing much to do with how the Pro Football Hall of Fame nerds archive the records in Ohio. I’ve approached these people repeatedly only to be rebuffed. I was in Canton four months ago and videotaped the experience:

Back to Jim Irsay. His past issues and abuses are a google search away. Much of the more lurid details he fessed up to in Jon Saraceno’s USA Today profile from a few weeks ago and he’s moved on from his own sins and addictions over the years. He’s never made excuses for his father nor has he openly condemned his actions or sins.

But I can only judge a man by the decisions he makes and how he has personally treated me, not the ill will brought on by his drunk and misguided relatives who are now deceased. At this point in my life as I take in this amazing amount of information through personal relationships and education, I try to be mentally flexible. I’ve asked our audience and sponsors to be flexible as we’ve completely reformatted and re-branded our company over the past three years. Deepak Chopra would say: “Infinite flexibility is the key to immortality.”

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Most people in my life know I’m a pretty yogic guy and an advocate of peace – a departure from my 20’s when I was young and stupid. I wouldn’t want to be judged by the actions or intellect of my paternal father, either, who is off in Venezuela now and not a part of my life. So it’s a little personal for me as well…

Jimmy Irsay, whose formal education was as a broadcast journalism major at Southern Methodist in Texas, took the hand he was dealt in life and hasn’t just made it work – he’s made it shine. The Indianapolis Colts were the worst franchise in the sport, a laughingstock by any measurement when his father died. They drafted No. 1 overall almost every year after leaving Baltimore in 1984 it seemed, which is how you get into a position to draft a guy like Peyton Manning in the first place. In 1990, they used the No. 1 overall pick on Jeff George. Two years later, they had the first and second pick in the 1992 draft (the only time in history this has ever happened) and used them on Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt.

Bob Irsay died on Jan. 14, 1997. They stunk so bad during that 3-13 year with Lindy Infante at the helm and Jim Harbaugh under center that they earned the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. (Harbaugh came to Baltimore to play for Marchibroda before he was fired and Harbaugh’s brother is now running our team. Crazy circle of life, right?)

Jim Irsay hired Bill Polian on Dec. 22, 1997 and his first act was drafting Peyton Manning in April 1998 and his second was passing on Ricky Williams for Edgerrin James a year later. Two Super Bowl appearances later, it’s kinda crazy how it all worked. Jim Irsay is a good karma machine. He’s the antithesis of his father in every way. His spiritual growth and ability to overcome his father’s dastardly deeds has shown in his actions, not only within the league but also within his “hometown” of Indianapolis.

And at every turn, he’s offered Baltimore an olive branch. His appearance on the recent Colts’ history DVD on John Zieman and the band was all class. His comments are always positive about Baltimore. He honored the 1975 Colts as the favorite team of his childhood recently in Indianapolis. Here’s a pretty cool video of him singing “Turn The Page” a few weeks ago and I think that’s a pretty symbolic song title.

We already had the Ravens here by the time that he had any control of the Colts. In many ways, we were already “made whole” by just being back in the league. So, it’s not like Jim Irsay had any prayer of putting the genie back in the bottle or the horseshoe back into the Inner Harbor by 1997.

In some ways, Jim Irsay was given an expansion franchise in 1997 and has taken it to two Super Bowls and has brought dignity to whatever legacy Johnny Unitas and company left in those beautiful blue uniforms that will never be ours again and are now deeded into eternity to him and Peyton Manning and Indianapolis. The Colts have now played more games in Indianapolis than they did in Baltimore. We have the Ravens.

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It’s time to move on…it really is. It’s time to “turn the page.”

Some would say it’s overdue. Many others will opine below that I’m a communist and should be ashamed of myself for considering anything other than more urination upon Bob Irsay’s grave. You’re entitled to your opinion and your feelings. As my partner Brian Billick would aptly say: “Have at it…”

I’m proud of what I’m writing today because it’s taken me years and two long conversations with Jim Irsay and a lot of soul searching to do this.

If John Steadman were alive he’d say it’s true – Jim Irsay has been a major success story as an owner in Indianapolis. He took the worst franchise in the sport, with the worst track record in the one of the worst NFL markets and has made it work with good decisions. (Knowing Jim Irsay a bit better now, he’d probably talk about good karma…)

Jim Irsay hired Bill Polian, who along with Ozzie Newsome, have been the two best personnel men of this generation. Polian has now directed two different franchises to six Super Bowls.

Jim Irsay hired Tony Dungy, who has become the game’s greatest ambassador of class and dignity even amidst a personal tragedy so horrific it doesn’t bear repeating.

Jim Irsay drafted and retained the greatest player of this (or any other) generation in Peyton Manning. The upshot of this is watching him lose and grimace to my football fan pleasure. Oh, and he does outstanding commercials!

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Jim Irsay got a stadium built in downtown Indianapolis that anyone here would be envious of calling home and quite frankly, improved on the one thing that Modell and company really missed on – making our stadium multi-purpose with a dome and a downtown track record of pulling in every major event in the American sporting universe, including a Super Bowl two years from now.

And he’s been a transparent figure about his own transgressions and is universally known as a “right guy.”

I’m a stubborn guy. Some would call be a stubborn S.O.B. But I do not make this pronouncement today in any arrogant way to proclaim that “Baltimore is done with Irsay” because I said so. Quite the contrary.

That’s just foolish. Some people – including those who sent me pictures of various Ravens fans literally pissing on Bob Irsay’s grave last month – will take this to their grave. They will not consider any “lightening of the load” or forgiveness, even though the Ravens have essentially improved on our civic football marriage from what would have been a disastrous curve had Bob Irsay kept the Colts here.

But I’m talking forgiveness here after 26 years. I’ve carried the cross – literally – for the “Irsay Sucks” movement for a generation in the name of my father, John Steadman, Loudy Loudenslager and many others but today, I’m burying the hatchet once and for all.

The Hatfields and the McCoys couldn’t do it. Israel and the muslim community can’t seem to do it. And quite frankly, I hope the Red Sox and the Yankees NEVER do it. But the case of Aparicio vs. (all things) Irsay is now closed.

Here is the video of my final “anti-Irsay” rally in Indianapolis from January’s big downtown purple walk-in:

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I’ve exacted more than my measure of flesh over the last 26 years and now it’s only tarnishing my view of the world and my own dignity, which is already pretty grim because of the situations and the stench I smell emanating from Camden Yards on an annual basis, much of it far worse than anything Irsay ever did here.

What Jim Irsay’s father did was a mortal sin to our people and our community. I have no idea what your religion is these days but if you still have one I bet that forgiveness is at the top of the list of “to do’s.” So, today I’m publicly forgiving and pardoning the Irsay name from this point forward. My Pop would be proud because I made this pronouncement on a Sunday morning as he was a Catholic man. And he always taught me to forgive, even if he didn’t always practice what he preached.

Jim Irsay has done all that he can do and I’m not a very good man if I don’t acknowledge what a classy guy he’s been toward me and what today represents in my own personal growth.

So on March 28th, in this year of two thousand and ten, I proclaim myself free of all past anger toward the Irsay family and the city of Indianapolis over the move of the Colts.

In the name of the kindnesses of Pete Ward, Craig Kelley, Stephanie Paul, Brandon Stokley, Matt Stover, Ted Marchibroda, Tony Siragusa, Jim Harbaugh, Pat Coyle and anyone else I’m forgetting who have all been classy and dignified (well, maybe except for Goose…lol) wearers of my father’s stolen horseshoe amidst my solemn and justified anger over the past 26 years, I’m here to say you were right: Jim Irsay is a very good man and deserves my praise and respect from this point forward.

Last Monday, I told him my story of Baltimore coaching and leadership growth wouldn’t be complete without him. After a brief conversation, he agreed with me and introduced me to his V.P. Pete Ward and kept his word amidst a crazy day in Orlando. He sat with me and was very profound in a lot of his observations about leadership and people. He’s been a complete gentleman and a man of his word. Ward was also a total class act, regaling me with some classic tales from the 1980’s Colts closet of memories.

I’ll keep the contents of our 30-minute conversation private for now, but I didn’t ask Jim Irsay anything that I didn’t ask any of the other people I’ve interviewed for the book. We didn’t talk much about his father but he did make a few references and talked a lot about karma and having good people around him.

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I’m not making this pronouncement solely because I sat down with Jim Irsay last week. He didn’t persuade me into anything and quite frankly it was a very professional and upbeat conversation in general.

I’m making this spiritual movement it because I feel like it’s the right thing to do for me. I thought about Jim Irsay on the flight home on Wednesday night as I reviewed the video. I realized that today was the 26th anniversary. I started to think about why I felt the way I have toward the Irsay name and the Colts and Indianapolis over the years and it’s not good to hold a lifelong grudge on people who had nothing to do with the move.

When I sat with Frank Kush a few weeks ago I had a few people intimate on Facebook that he somehow had a hand in the move. (This is a preposterous proposition if there ever was one and if you doubt that just look at last Tuesday’s owner’s vote. Owners own. Coaches coach. Period.)

Here’s Kush talking about the situation:

Let me also get this straight: I’ll never root FOR the Colts. Not any more than I’d root for the Broncos, Chiefs, Jaguars – whatever…

At this point I do root for the Jets or Bengals or Lions or any other team who I obviously have some friendships involved if you know anything about me and my radio show over the years. I can’t feel good about Marvin Lewis or Jim Schwartz or Mike Pettine or Rex Ryan losing. Call me biased, whatever…I just like good people!

Circa 2010, I just want to dislike the Colts for all of the right reasons – Peyton Manning’s facial expressions when they lose, the calls from Merton, their annual domination of our football team, losing big playoff games to them, etc. There are PLENTY of reasons to hate the Colts on the field that have nothing to do with Mayflower vans and Bob Irsay.

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Beginning today, I’ll only focus on those and not on Bob Irsay. He’s dead. And so is my anger. And I’m going to do my solemn best to not be so spiritually moved into a bad place at the site of the blue horseshoe and that rare occasion when I see the uniforms and think of my Pop on 33rd Street. I’m going to try to think good thoughts about the present.

A couple of other things pointed me in this direction.

First, the many, many re-circulated pictures of the various Ravens fans pissing on Irsay’s grave literally came through my mind as I sat and talked to Jim Irsay. And I literally thought of Drew’s blog about it last month as I sat elbow-to-elbow with that man’s son and it creeped me out. And it made me sad that somehow I could be linked to that sort of behavior in a real or imagined sense.

I’ve often opined that the folks in Cleveland shouldn’t be so angry with Art Modell given what they’ve seen flourish with a new stadium and their God-given hideous, logo-less dawg suits and history in tact. They spent three years without a 4-12 train wreck of a team and awakened to everything they had before only better and sans Modell, whom they hated and the local government lied to repeatedly.

What I see in Cleveland in regard to Art Modell is mostly despicable and ugly, but all of it was perfected here in Baltimore with the Irsay family name years before.

It’s very real and visceral — let me assure you of that. I had as much anger as anyone. And seeing those pictures of our fans pissing on Irsay made me think about Art and David Modell and their journey through the world the last 15 years as well.

Here’s what Merton’s cousin from Indianapolis had to say about this very conflicted topic:

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And if I ever expect the Cleveland people to get over Modell (and I don’t expect the Tony Grossi “drop the sword and Put Art in the Hall of Fame” blog coming any time soon, either, mind you) I should at least set a good personal example with an olive branch to the Irsay family members who have all but acknowledged the past grievances and attempted to right the wrongs as best as can be done once Mayflower vans pack up your franchise and cart it off to the “friendly heart of the midwest” in 1984.

But for today, I’m doing my part to put some charm back into the Charm City.

It’s all over between me and Irsay and Indianapolis.

Go Colts!

I’m going to walk on without the anger…forever more!

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