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An apology from Irsay would have made the day


THE GAME'S OVER, as are the cheers and the howling. The final score was Baltimore Ravens 38, Indianapolis Irsays 31. Indy's NFL team returned to Baltimore for the first time since the dreaded pirate Robert Irsay left and got spanked. All is now well.

Or is it? The final score of Sunday's game meant nothing to me. The only thing it proved is that the defensive coordinators for both teams have their work cut out for them this week. As revenge, the game was a total failure.

I will settle for nothing less than a public plea of mea culpa from Jim Irsay, the son of the late Robert Irsay and owner of the Indianapolis Irsays. I didn't just want a Ravens victory. I wanted Jim Irsay prostrate in midfield with his lips planted snugly on William Donald Schaefer's shoes. I wanted a Jim Irsay speech, which I've already taken the trouble to write for him.

"Citizens of Baltimore," Irsay would begin. "I'm here to apologize for my father, the drunken, duplicitous sot who ran one of the great franchises in NFL history into the ground. He came here in 1972, on a mission to alienate fans and players alike. He was all too successful. He shamelessly shopped the franchise around, trying to peddle it to this city and that one. The Baltimore Colts' regular season record during his 12 seasons of ownership here in Baltimore was 68 wins, 105 losses and one tie.

"By comparison, the Colts' regular season record for the 12 seasons before my father assumed ownership was 113 wins, 48 RTC losses and seven ties. The difference was clearly in the management. When we bolted for Indianapolis, my father and I blamed you fans here in Baltimore for our team's perennial futility. But in the 14 seasons we've been in Indianapolis, the team's record hasn't been much better. The sad truth is, when it comes to managing a professional football team, neither I nor my father knew what the hell we were doing.

"If sneaking off with the franchise in the dead of night were our only sin, that would be enough. But we weren't content with that. We wanted to keep the Colts name even though it was a Baltimore fan who thought of it. We wanted to keep the blue and white colors and the beloved horseshoe logo even though yet another Baltimore fan thought of that. We could easily have adopted a new name and logo, but we didn't want to hurt Baltimore football fans as much as we wanted to crush their spirits.

"The Irsays are to professional football what the bubonic plague was to Europe: strictly devastating. We, along with Al Davis of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raiders, started the trend of musical franchises in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams are now the St. Louis Rams, the St. Louis Cardinals the Arizona Cardinals, the Houston Oilers the Tennessee Oilers and the Cleveland Browns now your beloved Baltimore Ravens.

"But don't dog yourselves for taking Cleveland's team. Without the Irsays in your lives, you wouldn't have had to. We are the personification of what is most wrong in professional sports today: rapacious team owners looking to suck the last dollar out of fans and cities. The problem is most pervasive in the NFL, which has grown too powerful, too arrogant and too greedy. If you folks are still showing up for games, it's a tribute to the players, not the owners.

"In fact, you fans baffle me. When baseball players went on strike against the owners, many of you sided with the owners. When National Basketball Association owners locked out the players, many of you sided - and still side - with the owners. You run around clucking about how professional athletes are overpaid, but you've never hinted team owners make too much money.

"Pro sports are part of the entertainment business. Former Colts coach Don Shula said as much in Vince Bagli and Norman L. Macht's book 'Sundays at 2:00 with the Baltimore Colts.' Film star Jim Carrey makes millions per picture. You would never dream of suggesting that he makes too much money, although his salary is based on his drawing power.

"Ditto for pro athletes. In professional-sports entertainment, team owners are pretty much superfluous. The real ones who count are the fans and the players. My father had a total disdain for both and showed it when he packed up and skulked out of town. I'm here today to offer an apology that is long overdue."

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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