Tuesday's Super Bowl Announcement Ends Long Wait for Colts Owner
ATLANTA, Ga. – For a moment, Jim Irsay thought the words would never come.
This was Tuesday afternoon, shortly after 2 p.m. The site was the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta. At their 2008 Spring Meetings, the NFL owners had just held a fourth secret ballot to determine the host city for Super Bowl XLVI, to be played in February of 2012.
Irsay, the Colts' Owner and Chief Executive Officer and a huge part of Indianapolis' two-and-half-year, community-wide effort to land the world's most largest single-day sing event, said the announcement came in the manner announcements often do.
It came with a degree of ceremony.
And a degree of suspense.
And to Irsay, a bit too large a degree of the latter.
"It seemed that the words were going very slowly – the proper wording that went right before the word, 'Indianapolis,' " Irsay said with a laugh shortly after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the 2012 Super Bowl had been awarded to Indianapolis.
"When that came out, (Colts President) Bill Polian and I were sitting next to each other, and we were ecstatic. We couldn't be happier."
For Irsay, the wait actually began long before Tuesday.
And without Irsay, those most involved in the city's bid process said afterward, Tuesday most likely wouldn't have been a day for celebration in Indianapolis.
A year ago, at the league's spring meetings in Nashville, Tenn., the city narrowly lost its bid to host the 2011 bid, losing to a group representing North Texas by a vote of 17-15. It was Irsay's reaction to that loss that is perhaps the largest reason for Tuesday's victory, Indianapolis bid committee president Mark Miles said Tuesday.
"In so many respects, Jim Irsay led this effort," Miles said. "It simply doesn't happen without his leadership and the respect that he has in that (owners') room. He was really the person in Indianapolis who said, 'We can't quit. We've got to stay after this. Indianapolis is a Super Bowl city.'
"The value of that franchise and Jim's leadership in Indianapolis is hard to overstate."
Jack Swarbick, the Vice President of this year's Indianapolis bid said, "We have a lot of assets as we approach this process, but none more important than our franchise.
"The Indianapolis Colts have been extraordinary partners in this up and down the organization," Swarbick said. "Every time we needed counsel, some resources, some way to move forward, they were always our solution."
Colts President Bill Polian, like Irsay, called the bid "a team effort." Polian also credited Miles, Swarbick, Irsay, Colts Senior Executive Vice President Pete Ward, former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, 2007 bid committee president Fred Glass and Indianapolis Public School Superintendent Eugene White.
"We're tremendously proud of all of the effort that was put into it – all the wonderful people, hundreds of wonderful people who did such a great job to make this happen," Polian said.
Polian also said the bid "really took a lot of courage to renew after the disappointment of last year. Great credit goes to Mayor Ballard for spearheading that effort.
"There are a lot of people to thank," Polian said, adding, "Jim was the driving force."
Irsay, speaking to the media shortly after the announcement, spoke of his emotions following the narrow loss to the North Texas group. He said he was consoled by Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, which Irsay said represented a role reversal of sorts from when Irsay in the past has consoled Dungy after difficult losses.
Irsay, as he did in lobbying owners before this year's bid, had emphasized the public-private partnership between the team and the Indianapolis area, a partnership that resulted in Lucas Oil Stadium, a retractable-roof, state-of-the-art facility that will open in downtown Indianapolis this August.
It was, several owners said last May, a strong bid, but one that lost to what Irsay this year called "an unprecedented competitor" because of the size of the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium.
"You want to get it done and you want to get it delivered," Irsay said. "You're competitive about that. You always feel as the owner that the 'Buck Stops Here.' I understood when I stepped back what our circumstances were last year. Still, you come away disappointed because you put so much into it. . . .
"Leaving Nashville that night, I said, 'Get ready for another year of getting after it and lobbying.' I was up for it. I felt disappointed and responsible that we didn't get it done. . . .
"At the same time, it was really just about saying, Hey, we go back to work. We persevere and endure and go get the next one.
"I think that always serves you well in life and business and sports and everything."
Irsay on Monday had described himself as a "nervous optimist" despite a general feeling among observers that Indianapolis was the favorite.
"A lot of people said, 'Well you're going to get it. It's a lock. You're going to get it for sure,''' Irsay said. "That's not the way it works. It definitely wasn't that way and we didn't treat it that way.
"It's tough going in there. It's a secret ballot. You don't take anything for granted. Like I said, I was a nervous optimist. I felt we had a great presentation and in the end, it was nervewracking."
Particularly nervewracking, Irsay said, were the moments after one ballot, when Goodell thought he had the votes required for awarding the game before realizing there had been a miscount,
"They said, 'Stop. Not yet,''' Irsay said.
Moments later, came the announcement that Irsay said not only ended a long wait, but also served as a "completion of a chapter, in some ways, of the last decade."
Irsay assumed full ownership of the Colts after the 1997 death of his father, Robert Irsay. Since then, the Colts have made eight playoff appearances, won six division championships – including the last five AFC South titles – and won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.
"This is something that's been critically important to the franchise as well as the National Football League – in terms of acknowledging the public-private partnership we've had," Irsay said. "When I assumed full ownership after my father passed away, when we began our climb to excellence –culminating with a Super Bowl win and building this new stadium – we felt this was the one piece of the puzzle that had to get put in place to kind of tie all that up together, so to speak. We look for a lot more wins and a lot more memories, but this in some way kind of ties that all together.
"I just really feel blessed. It's amazing what can accomplish if it doesn't matter who gets the credit. The most special part to me is being able to share joy. When you can be part of the magic, and bring joy to others, and see how excited the community gets, that's a real blessing to be part of that."
"It was great feeling and a great amount of excitement. It has been a long process."