Irsay calls decision a ‘close call,’ but ‘courageous’

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said while he understands the loud booing of his team at Sunday’s home game against the N.Y. Jets and the subsequent outcry over the team’s decision not to pursue an undefeated season, he doesn’t think the fan backlash will last long.

The Colts lost to the Jets 29-15, ending the team’s 23-game regular-season winning streak. The Jets rallied to win after the Colts pulled many of the starters, including quarterback Peyton Manning. The Colts fell to 14-1 with one game remaining before the playoffs, losing an opportunity to become the first undefeated team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

“How could something damage your brand, when you’re [being] courageous enough to do the right thing,” Irsay said Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview. “When you talk about brand damage, certainly, it would be unimaginable to say you’re going to have this level of performance and say your brand is damaged.”

Many fans at the game expressed outrage at the decision, with some saying they felt betrayed. Others said they regretted spending hard-earned money on a team that gave up on a chance to make history.

Irsay scoffed at the notion that Colts fans haven’t gotten their money’s worth this season. The team has 115 victories this decade, the most accomplished by a franchise in any decade in NFL history.

“Value is based on winning,” Irsay said. “No one has ever given better value to its fans than the Indianapolis Colts.”

Irsay said fans shouldn’t question the integrity of Colts coaches and officials to do what was right to put the team in the best position to win a second Super Bowl in four years.

“It boils down to a very simple premise,” Irsay said. “What gives us the best chance to win a world championship. That’s where the focus is and, quite frankly, where the courage is.”

“It takes courage to do the right thing,” Irsay added, especially, he said, when it is going to be met with public discord.

Irsay implored Colts fans to band together with the team in pursuit of a Super Bowl triumph this year.

“I hate to see a fracturing within the ‘horseshoe kingdom’,” Irsay said. “That’s what we have to guard against. When I heard the boos Sunday, it was something I understood, but I thought, ‘let’s stick together.’”

Irsay indicated that he’s been hurt by the suggestion that the game plan for this season was made with no regard to the fans’ wishes.

“To suggest there’s arrogance … I take these things very seriously as a steward of this team,” Irsay said. “There’s no arrogance. There’s great humility and appreciation for what the fans mean. There’s never been any intention to act recklessly on or off the field. When you boil it down to a nut shell … that’s why I don’t think any fan can take a position of resentment. For anyone to attack the virtues and integrity of what we’re trying to do is misguided.”

Irsay called the decision to pull the starters, “a close call.” But he said there are more important goals for the “legacy” of the team. Irsay said the ultimate goal is to win three consecutive Super Bowls.

“That would stand as the highest achievement that’s never been done,” he said.

Irsay said he wouldn’t hesitate to overrule his coach or President Bill Polian, “if I felt it was essential,” but, he added, “there’s no doubt this was the right way to go.”

Irsay refused to speculate about how he would approach the same situation if it arose in the future.

For now, he said he’s focused on this year’s Super Bowl. Though, he certainly hasn’t forgotten the boos of last Sunday.

When the cat calls began raining down in Lucas Oil Stadium, Irsay said, “I was mostly focused on [backup quarterback] Curtis [Painter]. I know how hard these young men work … and Curtis’ dream for getting on the field. I know emotions and how they affect fans in the heat of the moment. But I just kept thinking in that moment, ‘let’s stick together.’”

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