If a guy wasn't in front of his stall, and thus his nameplate, Irsay would simply call the player "Tiger." There were dozens of Tigers on those early Irsay teams, and the players laughed and called him Tiger behind his back. One day, the guys decided it would be funny to really mix up the owner, so they switched their nameplates.
Irsay mistook Howard Stevens, a 5-foot-5 running back who is black, for Laird, 6 feet tall and white.
None of this mattered much because Irsay had Joe Thomas as his general manager. Thomas did most of the heavy lifting and was part of a package deal in 1972, when Irsay bought the Los Angeles Rams and promptly swapped teams with Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom.
Thomas made many controversial moves, including shipping beloved quarterback Johnny Unitas out of town, but by the mid-1970s, the young teams he'd built through the draft were becoming close and successful. They won three straight division titles. But by then, the franchise was rife with turmoil.
Irsay went through seven coaches in 10 years. He fired Howard Schnellenberger after an 0-3 start in 1974 -- it wasn't even October yet -- and replaced him with Thomas. Irsay was impatient and emotional. He would call in plays from the owner's box and belittle players in front of their teammates.
One of Irsay's regular targets was Marty Domres, a quarterback for the Colts from 1972 to '75. In a heated exchange in Atlanta, Irsay coldly told Domres that it would be nice if he could complete passes to his teammates, not the opponents. Domres fired back. The argument was eventually broken up by a couple of teammates, but not before Domres told his owner, "You don't know if the football is blown up or stuffed."
Irsay went on an epic rant after a bad game in Detroit in 1976 -- an exhibition game. It was so venomous that coach Ted Marchibroda quit, with the season opener just ahead, and came back only after a team protest.
"Logic didn't have anything to do with the decisions he made," Domres says. "It was more emotional, or driven by alcohol in some instances, I assume."
On that seemingly insignificant day in Detroit, the day Bob Irsay chewed out his team after an exhibition loss, his son tried to make amends. He climbed on the first team bus, the one with all the veterans, and apologized for Bob's rant. At least one player noticed that Irsay started to shake and well up with tears.
Jimmy was 17 years old.
Omar Manejwala, a psychiatrist and an expert in addiction who wrote the book "Craving: Why We Can't Seem to Get Enough," says that children growing up in homes with alcoholics often experience more guilt.
"Some of them take on the role of becoming caretaker, where essentially they lose themselves in order to take care of everyone else and establish a sense of normalcy," Manejwala says. "They are forced to take on parent-like roles even though they're children."
The younger Irsay had been a ball boy during training camps, but by the time of that blowup in 1976, he was growing into a man. He loved those players, especially the defensive linemen, who took him under their collective wing.