INDIANAPOLIS -- Even in the weeks before his collapse, he was not him. Gaunt, erratic and stooped over like a broken old man, Jim Irsay was on something, no doubt. But he was not his father.
About a month ago, Irsay popped into Daddy Jack's, a fine-dining joint in north Indianapolis that boasts of excellent food and generous drinks, and Irsay lit up the back room. It was rare to see him out at night like that. Normally, in the years since he sought treatment for an addiction to prescription painkillers in 2002, Jim would duck into Daddy Jack's just to order something eclectic off the menu, eat and be on his way. But on this particular night, he grabbed his guitar, played the blues, and belted out a rendition of "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay."
He tipped his waitresses handsomely, more than $100 each trip. He always made a point to be generous, perhaps because his father had not.
"It was a fun night," says Jim Thompson, owner of Daddy Jack's, who notes that Irsay had visited the establishment more lately.
"I knew his father. He used to come in a lot. I never saw him sober. I'd go to shake his hand, and he'd grab my hand and pull me over the table and knock over glasses, and I was like, 'Oh my god.' He was not really that nice of a man, to tell you the truth. Jimmy's a lot nicer than his dad. I was expecting the worst, and getting to know Jimmy kind of changed my mind on the family. And they have been very good for this community."
Nasty stories abound about Robert Irsay, who died in 1997: the liquor he consumed; the people he infuriated; the hearts he broke in 1984, when he whisked the Colts out of Baltimore in a caravan of Mayflower trucks in the dead of the night and relocated the team to Indianapolis. But Jim Irsay was damned if he'd be that guy. He learned from his father's mistakes. He spent a lifetime vowing to be kind and rational, sharp and football savvy. He'd be one of the NFL's best owners instead of the worst.
And to a great extent, he's succeeded. Since Jim took 100 percent control of the franchise in 1997, the Colts have piled up nine division championships, 13 playoff bids and a Super Bowl title. Yet here he was, walking down the same self-destructive path Bob Irsay walked, seemingly on the way to following addictions to the same sad end.
Was Jim really that different?
In the late hours of March 16, the man who tried so hard to be different from his father was pulled over by police in Carmel, Ind.; they found a cocktail of prescription pills and a driver who slurred his speech and had difficulty standing. Jim Irsay was booked on preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Formal charges have not been filed, and last week prosecutors postponed an initial court appearance for Irsay "unless or until" formal charges are filed against him.
He is receiving inpatient treatment at an out-of-state facility. Years ago, his father sought help too, according to a former associate who requested anonymity. The elder Irsay couldn't beat his addiction and died in 1997, after battling a host of health issues, including congestive heart failure.