Colts try to stay course in Irsay's absence
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Carlie Irsay-Gordon spent the early part of Colts practice chatting with general manager Ryan Grigson, taking notes and re-acclimating herself to a task she now knows well: Filling in for her father.
The Colts went back to work Wednesday and team owner Jim Irsay started his six-week suspension, just four days before the season opener against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. For Irsay-Gordon, this is starting to get routine. She spent two months helping run the team after her father sought treatment following a March traffic stop in which police found various prescription drugs and more than $29,000 in cash.
Irsay pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated Tuesday and within hours was punished by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Besides the suspension, he was fined $500,000 and barred from being anywhere near his beloved team until after Indy's game against Houston on Oct. 9.
The Colts, of course, insist it will be business as usual. But there will be no sign of their neatly dressed owner on the sideline, no inspiring comments on Twitter and no postgame speeches. And nobody understands better than coach Chuck Pagano how difficult it will be for Irsay to stay away from his team.
"Do I have a sense? Twelve weeks' worth. So I got a real good sense," Pagano said, referring to the time he missed in 2012 as he battled leukemia. "You pull anybody away from this game that has the passion and drive and love for this sport that we're so privileged to play and coach, you feel helpless. Believe me, you feel helpless."
Though Irsay was not seen on the field during the portion of practice open to reporters, Pagano relayed a message from the team owner, a close personal friend, to his players: It's time to focus on football, starting with Sunday night's game at Denver.
Goodell's suspension bars Irsay from visiting the team complex, attending practices or games, representing the Colts at league or committee meetings and conducting interviews or using social media to address football-related issues. Carlie Irsay-Gordon represented the team at the owners' meetings in March.
What is unclear is whether Irsay might still influence team decisions.
The NFL's release announcing the punishment does not specifically address conversations Irsay has with family members, and even if it did, it would seem almost impossible to police. League spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email Wednesday that the league had already specified terms of the suspension and would not comment any further on the matter.
Grigson was not available to reporters but said Tuesday on a local radio show he expected no significant changes in team operations.
"Business as usual," Pagano said when asked Wednesday.
Irsay has been grooming his three daughters -- Carlie, Kalen and Casey Foyt -- to run the team when he gives up the day-to-day operations. But earlier this summer in an interview with The Associated Press, Irsay said he had no plans to give up control any time soon even after a challenging offseason.
In addition to Irsay's legal troubles, receiver Lavon Brazill was waived after the league announced he would be suspended one season for another violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. The Colts are also missing outside linebacker Robert Mathis, the defending NFL sacks champ who was suspended for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy.
Players around the league had been anxious to see how Goodell would punish Irsay based on how he'd handled player suspensions. Aiello pointed out that a player with a first-offense misdemeanor driving under the influence would not be suspended at all and could be fined a maximum of $50,000. Irsay was fined $500,000.
Irsay acknowledged in 2002, before Goodell expanded the conduct policy to include owners and team executives, that he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem.
But inside the Colts locker room, fairness wasn't the issue. They were more concerned with showing they support the man who signs their paychecks.
"We're a family, so it got personal for me as soon as it happened," punter Pat McAfee said. "I owe everything I have to Jim Irsay. I think outside the Indianapolis Colts, that might have been the way (players) looked at it. I think in here, we knew a punishment was coming and we were hoping for the best. We'll miss him, but we'll get through it."