"And other times he was just brutal. He'd have a relationship with a contractor, and when that contractor was in a lot of trouble and needed money, that was when Bob would not pay him. He'd say, 'This guy's going to go under, why should I pay him?' And then the guy would go under. Who knows if he would've paid him if it would've helped the guy? He was brutal in business. But who isn't brutal in business to succeed at times?"
Bednarz eventually left Irsay's company because he couldn't stand his boss's drinking, so he never got to know Irsay's youngest child, Jimmy. Bednarz had met Tom, the oldest, who was mentally disabled and died in 1999, and he has sketchy memories of Roberta, who died in a car accident as a teenager in 1971. But aside from watching glimpses of Jim on TV, Bednarz knows nothing about him, nothing about the younger son of Bob Irsay.
"I saw him [on TV] when they won the Super Bowl a few years ago," Bednarz says. "I didn't see a resemblance there at all."
The football world looks at Jim Irsay and sees an astute football mind, a man who drafted Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf 16 years ago, won a truckload of games with the future Hall of Famer, then cut Manning loose two seasons ago to make room for Andrew Luck and the future, openly shedding tears in the process.
Irsay is not an empty suit. He played football himself, walking on for a bit at SMU. Front-office types say they don't have to explain a bunch of things to Irsay because he's already done his homework. Former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, called their relationship "symbiotic." They could almost finish each other's thoughts.
Irsay has made it a point to know all of his players too. In 2003, the Colts added an undrafted rookie named Gary Brackett. Midway through Brackett's rookie season, he went home during the bye week to bury his father. Very few people knew why he was gone. He wasn't a star, just a special-teams guy.
Brackett quietly returned to the team the next week, and Irsay found him in the locker room after the Colts beat the Houston Texans 30-21. "I'm praying for you and your family," Irsay whispered in his ear. "Thanks for all you do for the team."
Brackett eventually wound up being a captain and a starting linebacker on the Colts' 2006 Super Bowl team. In March 2012, new Colts general manager Ryan Grigson called Brackett to tell him he was going to be cut. It wasn't a surprise to Brackett. He'd been battling a shoulder injury and knew his body was breaking down.
Grigson told Brackett that Irsay wanted the linebacker to stop by the owner's office for an exit interview. They talked for 20 or 30 minutes about Brackett's shoulder, his health, what they'd accomplished together and Irsay's plans for the Colts.
"It was a very emotional meeting," Brackett says. "How often do you get released and speak to the owner for 20, 30 minutes? I think we both were teary-eyed.
"A lot of players are ticked off when they don't get signed back, but I think everybody has great things to say about Irsay and the support he gave us over the years."
Bob Irsay sold heating and air conditioning. He was not an expert on football. His first few years running the Baltimore Colts, he was just the man who signed the checks. He buzzed in from Chicago on weekends for games, lingered in the locker room for 15 or 20 minutes and didn't know the names of most of his players.