News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

March 17, 2014

Colts owner has double image in media

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts owner Jim Irsay is known in NFL circles as a tough businessman and eccentric billionaire who enjoys interacting with fans about his beloved team and favorite songs from bands like the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.

He may end up adding convicted felon to the mix.

Irsay was pulled over near his home in suburban Carmel just before midnight Sunday by police who said they found multiple prescription drugs inside his vehicle. He was spotted driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal, and police said Irsay failed several roadside field sobriety tests before he was arrested.

The drugs weren’t associated with any of the pill bottles found inside, police said. Some weren’t even in bottles.

The 54-year-old Irsay, who acknowledged a painkiller dependency more than a decade ago, faces preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance.  

If Irsay is charged and convicted on the felony counts, he could face six months to three years in prison on each count.

 Chief Deputy Prosecutor Andre Miksha said no decision had been made on formal charges and a hearing was set for March 26.

Irsay, whose mug shot was posted on websites for millions to see, said nothing as he left the Hamilton County Jail after posting bond Monday. A short time later, he tweeted: “Deepest thx to family, friends, fans, colleagues for the messages of support, thoughts and prayers. Impossible to tell u how much this means.”

An NFL spokesman said Irsay is subject to discipline but didn’t elaborate on what that might be. Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $100,000 in 2010 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following his guilty plea to driving while impaired.

Current and former NFL players were clearly watching the case with interest.

“I want to see what the NFL does about this Jim Irsay situation if a player loses a game check no matter the amount he should lose a game day,” Atlanta Falcons wide receiver White tweeted. “I’m guessing a million dollar fine will come which is nothing to a man that makes billions.”

White, accused earlier this year of failing to appear in court for speeding and tinted window citations, added: “I don’t think Irsay is a bad guy I actually like him as an owner but it was a bad mistake.”

Authorities would not say what drugs Irsay was allegedly caught with, but they were listed as Schedule IV drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That type of drug, which includes Xanax, Darvocet and Ambien, has a low risk for abuse or dependency, according to the DEA.

Irsay acknowledged in 2002 that he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem after undergoing treatment.

The DEA investigated the case, but local prosecutors at the time said they saw no reason to charge Irsay.  In October 2013, Irsay tweeted that “I don’t drink ... haven’t in over 15 years.”

Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father’s second wife. Forbes magazine has estimated Irsay’s net worth at $1.6 billion.

He helped build the Colts into a top NFL team over the past decade behind quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver, and was a key player in the drive to bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis two years ago. He is working with some success to rebuild the team behind young quarterback Andrew Luck while coping with a painful divorce that follows a decade-long separation from his wife of 33 years.

Irsay has cultivated a relaxed image that fans have responded to.  Irsay has said the public wants owners who are “down to earth” and he’s done his best to keep his fans up to date on his team — and lots of other things.

“Don’t ever mix NiQuil and Ambien...it’ll give U gas and u might end up on Capitol Hill,” he once tweeted.

Irsay has written his own poetry, songs and short stories and plays the guitar.

He is an eclectic collector of everything from letters from Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson to electric guitars that once belonged to famous musicians, including one said to be the last guitar played by Jerry Garcia before he died in 1995. He made headlines by buying the handwritten scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s beat poem “On the Road” for $2.43 million and sending it on a nationwide tour.

 

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