The contentious October tweets came in the days leading to Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis for a game between the Broncos and Colts. After Irsay's team won 39-33, the owner gave the Colts a locker room speech that was captured by NFL Films. Irsay took a dig at Manning, saying that though he has nothing but gratitude for him, "We all know that we want to go and get this." Irsay held up his right hand with the Super Bowl ring, an apparent nod to the fact that Manning won only one Super Bowl.
But Irsay was not himself. Longtime Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz knew that long before October. Around the time of Manning's departure, Kravitz wondered if Irsay was back on drugs. Irsay, who has a deep respect for Kravitz's work, started leaving long, rambling voice mails in the middle of the night.
"He said some things privately to me in such a way that I thought, Is this guy all there?" Kravitz says. "It just got more and more bizarre.
"Even when Jim is sober, he's rambling and sometimes relatively incoherent, but it was the way ... he was just very emotional and kind of slurring his words. He would leave 10-, 15-minute-long messages on my phone, and I just thought, Man, something's not quite right here."
The drastic weight loss made Kravitz even more suspicious. But he couldn't prove anything. Irsay told him that doctors said he had to lose the weight to take the strain off his back and hips. Irsay, a former weightlifter, had hip surgery last year.
Was it the physical or emotional pain that lured him back to drugs? Irsay's wife, Meg, filed for divorce in November. But the couple had been estranged for years. Irsay's decision to part ways with Manning was highly scrutinized. But that's part of the business of being an NFL owner.
"The bottom line is that it's very difficult to beat an opiate addiction," Manejwala says. "People die from these addictions at a high rate, and many who attempt to quit find they cannot despite their very best efforts."
Irsay's struggles with prescription drugs were well-documented in the local media in 2002. The Indianapolis Star reported that a local pharmacy had filled more than 120 prescriptions for Irsay over the course of roughly a year. In a 24-day span, Irsay received 400 OxyContin tablets. Indianapolis' NBC affiliate said Irsay had several stints in rehab and "at least three overdoses."
According to the Carmel, Ind., police report from March 16, Irsay had "numerous" medications, some without prescription bottles, in his SUV, along with $29,000 in cash. His eyes were red and watery. Standing outside his vehicle, he nearly fell.
Manejwala says research suggests that if someone with a family history of alcoholism is addicted to opiates, that person has a much higher risk of relapse.
Jim Irsay has long been a searcher for the deeper meaning of life. In 2001, he dropped $2.43 million to purchase Jack Kerouac's original manuscript of "On the Road," a 121-foot scroll of sheets that Kerouac cut and taped together. The book is described as a story of a personal quest for meaning and belonging. Kerouac died in 1969 at age 47, bleeding internally from years of alcohol abuse.
One of Irsay's good friends was Hunter S. Thompson, a massively gifted writer who spent much of his life abusing alcohol and drugs; Thompson committed suicide in 2005. Thompson was notorious for sending funny, brilliant and odd faxes to famous people, cc'ing their names. Irsay's was often one of those cc'd.