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Scrutiny of Irsay should be balanced
So what’s the problem?
At the very least, Irsay has been more candid about the state of his team than Manning was about the state of his vertebrae. Now Manning wants to talk? Really? The guy didn’t say boo all season. But suddenly, with a $28 million bonus due about six weeks from now, he’s become quite glib. If that’s not a politician, what is?
It’s inevitable: The next stage in the Manning saga will be the Assignment of Blame. Irsay will get his share, of that there’s no doubt. He has only two options. He can let go of arguably the best passer in NFL history, in which case the Colts will suck. Or he can blow $28 million on a guy who hasn’t played in more than a year because of spinal surgery and — guess what? — the Colts will still suck, though probably for a longer duration. Either way, in the short run, Irsay is doomed to fail.
Such failure will become the subject of great mirth, of course. In sports, the easiest character to lampoon is the owner (never mind that, for the most part, these guys deserve it). Easier still is that subspecies of rich-kid owner, whose status is merely a matter of inheritance.
Exhibit A would be Jim Dolan, son of Charles, who made his bones as a much-disliked cable-TV czar. Jim the Younger — owner of Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers, among other things — has done little to gentle the family’s reputation. Yes, the Rangers look like winners this year. But what of the 16 previous seasons since he took over as CEO of Cablevision?
Then again, more infamous and instructive than the Rangers is Dolan’s tenure as owner of the Knicks. Dolan’s continued reliance on Isiah Thomas, however comic or inexplicable it might be to civilians, is just a symptom. The real problem is accountability.
Sports franchises constitute a semi-public trust. Now consider the Carmelo Anthony trade. Against the advice and counsel of his then-general manager, Donnie Walsh, Dolan sent Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Denver for Anthony. In other words, he traded the Knicks’ future for the Nuggets’ recent past (which, you may recall, was none too glorious).
It doesn’t make Dolan the first shortsighted, starstruck owner of the New York Knicks. But he might be the most arrogant. What offends even more than the mistake itself is the refusal to deal with it. Irsay gets bashed for his frequent twitterings. Dolan says nothing.
Dolan made a disastrous deal without any admission of responsibility. That’s not the case with Irsay. The decision on Manning will be his. The next suggestion otherwise will be the first. He might not make the absolute best decision, but at least he'll own it.
Am I making too much of this Irsay-Dolan comparison? Actually, maybe not enough. They are contemporaries, born three years apart. They are the guitar-playing scions of reviled fathers, each son having dealt with problems of substance abuse.
Sure, if not for Manning, you’d probably never have heard of Irsay. But that’s not reason enough to lose sight of what he has done in Indianapolis. He became the Colts’ general manager in 1984, just weeks after his father arranged their surreptitious under-cover-of-darkness move from Baltimore. They were unique, the Colts: not just a small-market team, but outside of Indiana, universally despised.
Under Irsay the Younger, they became a model franchise. Super Bowl XLVI, to be played in nine days on the Colts’ home field, is in part an acknowledgment of that.
"I voted for Indianapolis because of Jim,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said. “Because I like him and respect what he's done there.”
And you thought Lucas Oil Stadium was the house that Manning built? It is. But that doesn’t mean Irsay’s contribution was coincidental.
“Irsay will be the guy I’m going to sit down and talk with,” Manning told the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz. “That’s going to happen at some point, but we haven’t had that conversation yet because we really don’t need to have that conversation yet.”
Then what’s the point of talking about it?
Unless you’re being a politician.
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