INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Irsay stepped up to the microphone Wednesday at the annual Indianapolis Colts Kickoff Luncheon and put proper perspective to what have undoubtedly been a tough last few days for the organization.
Four days after starting quarterback Andrew Luck made his stunning announcement that he was retiring from the Colts and the National Football League at the age of 29, Irsay said the Colts have what it takes to respectfully move on and prepare for the start of the regular season, which begins Sept. 8 on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"Let me say this: I know a lot has unfolded over the last couple weeks," Irsay said. "And as I was just talking to Jeff Saturday: being a champion is overcoming adversity. And that's not words: it's real. It's real adversity, things that get in your way to greatness.
"I look at it simply as the owner of this franchise (that) my responsibility, my job and my commitment to everyone in this room is I will do everything in my powers to bring outstanding football — championship football — to Indianapolis. And I mean that."
The Luck news aside, Wednesday's event gave Colts fans and sponsors in attendance a tremendous perspective into the attitude of the team just before, to steal a phrase from head coach Frank Reich, it starts its climb up the mountain.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to see this football team, because I don't guess that we're better — I know that we are better," Irsay said in his opening remarks. "These things are real from guys that absolutely have proven themselves to be great football players. And I know it's about our team, not about any one individual. … That's what happens when you have belief, when you have conviction, when you trust the next man up, when you have no explanations or excuses, when you demand excellence from everyone."
Here are some top takeaways from Wednesday's annual Colts Kickoff Luncheon, which was hosted by former great center, Super Bowl XLI champion and Ring of Honor member Jeff Saturday:
» 'No excuses:' Saturday kicked off the program by speaking with Reich and general manager Chris Ballard. Asking both to quickly address the Luck situation, as well as their thoughts moving forward, Ballard spoke of a "difficult week" for Luck, not only because of his personal reasons to leave the game, but because he knew Luck was aware of the impact his sudden retirement would have on his teammates.
But Ballard appreciated and respected Luck for making his decision and moving forward with it.
"I think that was a message getting a little lost in the sauce here: when you play this game you can't be half in," Ballard said. "You've gotta be all the way in, and Andrew knew that — not only for himself, but for all his teammates. He knew the journey we were going on required his full commitment, and he wasn't able to give that commitment."
And moving forward?
"We will make no excuses — no excuses — about how we play," Ballard said. "We've got a good football team, a good quarterback, Jacoby Brissett — that's just how we'll roll."
» "Our eyes are forward:" Reich echoed Ballard's sentiments about Luck's decision, and what faces his team.
"Our eyes are forward," the second-year head coach said. "As much as we respect (Luck), our eyes are forward."
Reich talked about an hour-plus-long conversation he had on Tuesday with Brissett, the team's new starting quarterback, about how last season unfolded and how they believe they have the right kind of guys moving forward to make some noise.
Last year, of course, the Colts started out with a 1-5 record before catching fire and winning nine of their final 10 regular season games and earning their first playoff berth in four seasons. There, they went on the road and defeated their AFC South Division rival Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round before bowing out to the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round.
"It was just so natural," Reich and Brissett said about staying the course last year. "Like, there was nothing fake or phony about it: when you back good people in a corner, nobody got scared; nobody was looking for the exit. … It's about belief and conviction. … And that's the kind of players we have. That's what Jacoby and I were talking about yesterday; that's what's going to power us going forward."
» "Mixed emotions:" Next was the players' turn to take the stage and answer some questions from Saturday. Joining Brissett were left tackle Anthony Castonzo, tight end Eric Ebron, linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Kenny Moore II.
Brissett spoke to what he has been feeling in the last few days since Luck's announcement, and since he was handed over the reins of the offense.
"It's been a crazy week, an eventful week of mixed emotions — like (for) all this team," he said. "Not necessarily about losing Andrew as a player but as a teammate we see every day. That's the tough thing to get used to, but I'm wrapping my mind around it."
Brissett, who started 15 games for the Colts in 2017 as Luck recovered from shoulder surgery, was originally drafted by the New England Patriots, where he backed up Tom Brady. He said he learned two key attributes from both Brady and Luck: preparation and self-confidence.
"Those two guys have separated themselves in the league based on their preparation … and the preparation is key for us," Brissett said. "The thing I have to do is be me, just be myself, and the guys here accept me, and all I can do is be myself and go forward."
"Being myself" was a theme for pretty much every player that talked on Wednesday. Castonzo, for example, said that approach has been key over the years as he's turned into a trusted veteran. And Ebron said that approach was key in 2018 when he put in a career year in his first season in Indy.
From the top down, the Colts aren't trying to be something they're not; every player was selected to the team's roster for a reason, and together they feel they can do something special in 2019.
"It was fun during the offseason to watch as a group and as a team them do things unsupervised," Ballard said. "These guys would hang out and do things together, and that's a powerful thing, when you get into the season and when you hit those moments, when you hit those moments when things aren't going right, nobody hits the panic mode."
The Colts today travel to Cincinnati ahead of Thursday's preseason finale against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The team then faces a 4 p.m. ET deadline on Saturday to cut down to its initial 53-man regular season roster.