Irsay thinks the Colts are close to hitting the goal they have for the 2020s.
Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich have a common goal to not only establish success, but to sustain it throughout the decade. And Irsay feels like what he saw in 2020 — going 11-5 and narrowly falling to the red-hot Buffalo Bills in the playoffs — can be the start of sustaining a championship standard in Indianapolis.
"You just say, we're right there," Irsay said. "Now, what do we need to get it over the top and to sustain that. Because I think don't forget one thing, Chris and I and Frank Reich talk a lot about, we want sustained greatness. We're not looking to put together an extremely veteran roster that has a chance to make one run at it. We want to make more than one run at it in this decade. We've made it no mystery, no secret that we're interested in two or more championships. And that's where our heart and effort lies."
Added Irsay: "We absolutely feel everything we accomplished in 2020 will be taken forward and when we succeed in 2021 or '22, the year we had in 2020 was that springboard that was building to the ultimate which of course is a world championship. And I'm excited now because I'm confident if we can get the world championship we can have a real parade in February of 2022. And wouldn't that be something to get back to some normality? We'd love to get back on that parade route early next year."
Irsay sees similarities between Chris Ballard and Bill Polian's draft success.
NFL.com ranked Ballard as the NFL’s best drafting general manager, pointing to successes in picking Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Nyheim Hines, Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor and Julian Blackmon — with all but Nelson being picked after the first round.
Polian, of course, drafted Peyton Manning, Edgerring James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Joseph Addai and a host of others to build teams that won a Super Bowl and reached another.
"They both are outstanding draft smiths, if you want to call them (that)," Irsay said. "They really are special. You can see the body of work Chris has already put together, you can see him rated No. 1 by a top publication in this country for making the right picks in the draft. And Bill was the same way.
"Colts fans, realize how lucky we are — it's a lot like going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, that Chris is really a special guy when it comes to judging talent not only in the draft but with trades like DeForest Bucker and the way he operates putting the roster together. It's really special. I'm just there to try to make him ask every single question he needs to ask and really try to lead his intuition in the right direction. Believe me, Colts fans know that the draft is your lifeline in this business. That is what dictates the destiny of your franchise. And when you have the best guy doing it in Chris Ballard, you're blessed."
Watching Quenton Nelson and DeForest Buckner brings back some fond memories.
Having an All-Pro on both the Colts' defensive and offensive lines is something Irsay relishes — especially because that means those two star players get to compete against each other in practice, just like the Colts saw 15 years ago.
"It brings up memories, and the memories it brings up is Dwight Freeney and Tarik Glenn going against each other year after year in practice," Irsay said. "And everyone would gather around when it was time for one on ones because you know you had a special moment to watch two rare, rare special athletes battle and make each other better. It's the same thing with DeForest and Quenton. They're such outstanding leaders of this franchise and so rarely gifted.
"I can say if both of these men stay healthy, they will be in a gold jacket. That's not an exaggeration in how outstanding they are."
"Kicking The Stigma" will be an important initiative for the Irsay family for decades to come.
The Irsay family and Colts will host Kicking The Stigma Week May 3-6 to kick off national Mental Health Awareness month. Read more about how you can get involved in the virtual fundraiser here (https://www.colts.com/community/kicking-the-stigma)).
But the efforts of Irsay and his daughters to de-stigmatize conversations about and support of mental illness will not stop next week, he explained.
"This stigma is real and it needs to be taken away," Irsay said. "Because don't tell me someone can't become president of the United States because they beat a mental illness. Don't tell me what anyone can't do, be an astronaut and walking around on Mars because they had a mental illness. That is not true and I stand behind everyone and trying to say, let's get this stigma taken away because our family is not ashamed and very open to talk about it because it can help other people and help other people understand this disease doesn't discriminate, it goes after everyone.
"And it needs lots of support because unlike some of the physical illnesses it carries with it so much more difficulties with the insurance companies that don't pay, authorities that treat people like criminals when they're just sick people and we have to get away from that because it's so hard to survive and overcome the mental illnesses that people battle. The odds are just so stacked against them and I wish I could say in 2021 that we've made just enormous progress, but we really haven't.
"We're in it for the long run. This is just the first quarter. We're going to be there hanging with people, pulling people through the dark tunnel a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now."