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Robert Irsay

(born March 5, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois 
— died January 18, 1997 in Indianapolis, Indiana)

Robert Irsay was the longtime owner of the National Football League's Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts franchise. He died at age 73 of heart and kidney failure.

While previously the owner of the-then Los Angeles Rams, Irsay essentially traded franchises with Carroll Rosenbloom, the-then owner of the Colts in 1972.

In what some view as a controversial move, Robert Irsay suddenly moved the Colts to Indianapolis, Indiana in the early morning hours of March 30, 1984.

After Irsay's death, the Colts were inherited by his son, Jim Irsay, who currently serves as CEO. However, team president Bill Polian, for all intents and purposes, is the person who runs the football side of the Indianapolis Colts.

With negotiations between Robert Irsay and Baltimore City for a new, modern football stadium at an impasse, on March 29, 1984, the Maryland state legislature passed a law allowing the city of Baltimore to seize the Baltimore Colts under eminent domain (which city and county officials had previously threatened to do).

The next day, Irsay, fearing a dawn raid on the team's Owings Mills headquarters, quickly accepted the deal offered by the city of Indianapolis, and then contacted his good friend, John B. Smith, the CEO of the Mayflower Transit company and arranged for fifteen vans to hurriedly pack up the team's property and transport it to Indianapolis in the early hours of the morning.

Thus, many Baltimore Colts fans awoke to the stunning news that they no longer had a football team. Irsay, who had a reputation in the city for being stingy and temperamental to begin with, was further excoriated by the Baltimore press and many fans as a coward and a Judas.

However, Irsay's attorney, Michael Chernoff, defended what became colloquially known as "The Move".

"They (the Maryland state legislature and the city of Baltimore) not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, 'want to see if it's loaded?' said Chernoff. "They forced him to make a decision that day."

It has to be noted that the deal between the city of Indianapolis and the Colts was not nearly as lucrative as the deal the city of Baltimore offered. Irsay claimed that the new Hoosier Dome (now the RCA Dome) and the people of Indianapolis were the primary considerations in the move to Indianapolis.

An ecstatic crowd in Indianapolis greeted the arrival of their new NFL team, and an estimated 143,000 season tickets were sold in just two weeks. However, the Colts' first game in the Hoosier Dome was a 21-14 loss to the New York Jets.

According to associates, Robert Irsay seemed to change with the new environment. He became friendlier and more community-minded, donating to local charities. And even the strained relationship between Irsay and his son, Jim (the former president of the Indianapolis Colts,) seemed to warm a great deal.

Baltimore was without a professional football team until 1996, when Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, moved the team to Maryland. They were then renamed the Baltimore Ravens. As part of the deal, the Modell organization gave up ownership of statistics and records set by Cleveland Browns teams and players; they would be given to the new Browns owners. The Ravens, in essence, were an expansion team with no history.

 

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