As the news of the drug possession felony arrest and ensuing glassed-faced, eyelid-drooped mug shot of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay swept across the NFL on Monday, it was met with perhaps surprise, but hardly shock.
Irsay's personal demons were, if not an open secret throughout the league, then at least a topic of open speculation.
The 54-year-old admitted battling substance abuse in the past, including admissions of treatment for prescription drug use and a claim that he quit alcohol 15 years ago, although almost no one could've thought either fight was without setbacks.
He was an erratic if likeable and colorful figure. Whispered tales of his late-night antics were everywhere though. His personality was there for anyone to see via his rants on Twitter, which were occasionally off-the-wall and nothing like you get from the prototypical NFL owner. His weight and appearance fluctuated. He was divorced after a long but uneven marriage last November.
Irsay was one of a kind in a league dominated by owners who project conservative and reserved images. Wellington Mara he was not.
Now it's all on the table, all easy to see after he was booked into in the Hamilton County (Ind.) Jail around midnight Sunday night/Monday morning after being arrested by police in suburban Indianapolis for driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance.
He faces four Class D felony counts, each of which can carry between six months and three years in prison. This is serious stuff, even for a man of great wealth and influence. That the NFL can, itself, fine and punish him as it would a player or any other employee is the least of his concerns.
Getting clean and healthy is No. 1, because without that there is nothing.
This wasn't just another rich guy driving drunk. This wasn't the owner of the Colts having too much wine one night over dinner at St. Elmo and arrogantly thinking he could make it home anyway and needing a serious apology to everyone. There may not have even been alcohol involved.
This is a serious sign of a desperate man who was destined for worse. Here he was, rolling through the quiet, tree-lined streets of his affluent suburb in the middle of a Sunday night, a car full of prescription drugs he shouldn't have possessed. You can always curse a drunk driver – rich or poor – for not just getting a cab or limo, but Irsay was living a lie and the first casualty of addiction is always the truth.
It was, apparently, just a matter of time before police somewhere found him like this, his car stopped in the middle of a tree-lined street overlooking a picturesque lake.
"During the course of the investigation, Irsay subsequently failed several roadside sobriety tests," Lt. Joe Bickel of the Carmel, Ind., police said in a statement.
When police searched Irsay's Toyota Highlander, "multiple prescription drugs were discovered in pill bottles … These Schedule IV prescription drugs were not associated with any prescription bottles found in the vehicle."
This isn't pretty. The only positives here is no one, including Irsay, was injured and it may serve as a wake-up call. It better.
Irsay's father, Robert, was a self-made multi-millionaire, a construction magnate who bought the Baltimore Colts in 1972 and controversially moved the team in the middle of the night to Indy in 1984. After his death in 1996, he left his fortune, including the Colts, to Jim, who is now worth an estimated $1.6 billion.
Jim Irsay is unlike just about any other NFL owner.
He's a passionate fan of music, with a wild streak and a brash speaking style. He's popular in Indy, a man who built a Super Bowl champion, helped get civic treasure Lucas Oil Stadium built, pitched the city as a Super Bowl host and was willing to make bold moves such as releasing Peyton Manning to rebuild the club. All the while he keeps a public persona, interacting with fans around town and on social media. He speaks his mind.
In a league where too many owners are unapproachable, he can be, even when he's brash and difficult, a welcome change of pace.
Yet through it all were the worries and the whispers. Irsay admitted he needed to quit drinking years ago and said he did. He acknowledged getting hooked on painkillers after a couple of surgeries but said he'd beaten it via rehab.
In the end though, it appears he hadn't. His booking photo shows a mess of a man who'd been through dramatic weight loss of late, a half conscious billionaire alone and helpless.
Reality is hitting Jim Irsay hard this morning. He needs serious assistance to get back on track. He faces some daunting legal issues – four felonies are not easy to escape, especially with a judicial system that will be under a spotlight to not cut a powerful, politically connected rich man a break.
That all can wait though. The news the NFL dreaded but couldn't have fully doubted came in Monday.
Now it's the league's job to help one of its own with the latest battle in the fight of his life.
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