Jim Irsay: drunk mouth

Dateline: Sun 26 Apr 2009

1960s rock icon Gracie Slick famously used the term "drunk mouth" in referencing her own alcoholic behavior. The incident that inspired the phrase involved her getting trashed/juiced during a fight with a boyfriend, while he was driving on a winding California road. When the cops finally came, the boyfriend was gone, and Ms. Slick was sitting on the hood of her car. She gave the cops a lot of lip. "Drunk mouth." she said of herself, after she was busted and in recovery.

Any addict, however, knows that drunk mouth can happen when one is perfectly sober; it's a function of acting out, being a control freak, and having a (bad) selfish attitude.

It's the term that came to mind after reading Indianapolis Star reporter Robert Annis' interview with Colts owner Jimmy Irsay, published last night online and in this morning's paper. Needless to say, Irsay's gentle but shrewd PR handler, Myra Borshoff Cook, was not on board. Instead, Irsay got himself a head of steam over the shady Capital Improvement Board finances and the request from various entities for the Colts to pony up. So he made a call to the Star and unloaded. (Annis, a rookie, did a bang-up job of cooly reporting Irsay's comments and fleshing out the story with figures and insight).

"I'm not going to renegotiate. That's the bottom line," says a very rigid Irsay, who himself is a recovering pill head. (Old story). Irsay is responding to comments from Gov. Mitch Daniels and others (Mayor Greg Ballard and state Sen. Luke Kenley) that perhaps the Colts and Pacers could maybe help pay some of the CIB's shortfall.

Irsay's stance is that he's the wronged party in all this. The city, he says, came to him and wanted to build a new football stadium. Being the easy-going guy he is, how could he say no? All he got in the bargain was the Taj Mahal of sports palaces and a drain on every taxpayer's pocket.

Some of us remember the speculation that the Colts would bolt and head off to Los Angeles, before the Lucas Oil Stadium deal was sealed. The fear that Irsay would go Hollywood scared the pants off various politicians and fans here at the time. I recall those shenanigans from my days as a metro columnist. I also recall interviewing a top guy who analyzed the effects of pro sports on cities, and his prediction: if the Colts did leave, the city would forever have the jones for a team. Every other city that has lost a team has gone out hunting for a new one...better to deal with the devil you know, so to speak, than the devil you don't even have yet, and may never get.

One likes to believe that, at this level of a playing field, these are all honorable men: former Mayor Bart Peterson and his go-to guy Fred Glass, who sealed the stadium deal; Daniels, Ballard et al -- right down to the original visionaries, former Mayor Bill Hudnut and David Frick and all those who worked so hard to put Indy on the map, using sports as a locater.

Only problem is, Irsay, a major player, is not acting like a good guy. He's acting like the heavy. As Annis points out, citing Forbes magazine as a source, the Colts' revenues are at $184 million, Before the new stadium was built, they still posted losses of $17.4 million. (You do the math; they're still richer than sin).

But the new stadium, Annis reports, is expected to turn those losses into profits. The Star's own analysis shows the team will make as much as $41 mil a year more at the new stadium.

So what is the problem? Where is hippie Jim, the free spirit, the generous patron of the arts, all things green, etc., when we need him? Where did the mouth come from?

Years ago, when the Colts came to town, a chaplain at IUPUI dared to suggest no good could come from the deal -- they slipped out of Baltimore under cover of dark, in effect giving that city the finger, to come to Indy, simply because they thought they'd make out better here. That was under the watch of Jim Irsay's dad, now deceased -- a notoriously tough negotiator and not always the nicest guy. The issue, the chaplain said, was one of integrity: the alliance between the Colts and Indy was lacking that key ingredient.

But for some dumb reason, I expected Jim Irsay to do better: to be more sensitive, less of a money-grubber, more -- there's no other word -- magnanimous.

I'm sure plenty of pols are steaming at what Irsay had to say. But at least, we now know where he's coming from: drunk mouth.

And you can take this to the bank. He is not going to budge. Why should he? He's in control.


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