National Columnist

Colts owner Jim Irsay needs to learn when to zip it

Colts owner Jim Irsay, who inherited the team from his self-made millionaire father, was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple. That's what those of us on the outside see. Colts fans? Maybe they see the same thing. Maybe they don't care. Irsay is their guy and they love him. That's what fans do, and that's what they're always going to do, and the rest of us -- because we're fans of something or somebody, too -- should let that one go.

But we don't have to let Irsay go. And right here, I'm going to write something I hope Irsay reads, because I can help that guy. I can help him with a story from my own experience, illustrating a weakness of mine that happens to be a weakness of his. I'm sure Irsay is smart enough to see the parable. Will he be humble enough to see it and change? I'm not sure of that. He acts like a guy who doesn't seem to realize the sycophants telling him he's brilliant and witty are only saying it because he owns the Colts. He thinks they actually mean it. Is he brilliant and witty? Read his Twitter page. That's Jim Irsay unfiltered. You tell me what he is.

This story, my parable, is based on a saying that has roots in sports: playing with a lead. What it means is this: When you're ahead in life -- you've just gotten an 'A' in class or a promotion at work, or maybe your rival just got a 'D' or a demotion -- do you show some class and grace? Or maybe your ugly side comes out, the one that says, "I have the upper hand and here's where I stick it to everyone else."

Irsay doesn't know how to play with a lead. As good as Peyton Manning has been for the Denver Broncos, Irsay's Colts clearly made the right call in 2012 to let Manning go and roll the dice on the potential greatness of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Manning has been great for Denver, Luck has been great for Indianapolis. Has Manning been greater than Luck? Yeah. But Manning is 37 and will be done sooner than later. Luck is 24, and won't. Irsay's Colts made the right decision in 2012.

But of course he couldn't play with the lead. Instead of being privately happy, Irsay crowed about his team's choice last week before Manning and the Broncos came to Indianapolis, said some stuff about the franchise's makeup under Bill Polian -- the defense, the special teams -- but also said some stuff that suggested Manning wasn't good enough in the clutch. Irsay mentioned Manning's tendency to put up "Star Wars numbers" and then mentioned Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's tendency to win Super Bowl rings. That was insulting to Manning, whether Irsay meant it that way or not.

And then on Sunday after Luck and the Colts beat Manning and the Broncos, Irsay again had the lead and again he blew it. He stood up in the Colts' postgame locker room -- knowing the cameras were rolling -- and reiterated his point from the previous week, that the Colts needed to win more than one Super Bowl ring. On the surface, sure, that's a decent and motivational thing to say as an owner of an NFL team. Look below the surface. Remember what Irsay had said a few days earlier, about Manning having great numbers but just one Super Bowl ring.

More on that in a minute. But now, back to my story. About my own inability to play with the lead. That's been there my whole life, but increasingly in the last few years as I've found some success at work and shown an embarrassing inability to let it go when people I don't like -- sports writers, athletes, coaches -- screw up. The analogy between Irsay and me isn't perfect, because he's crowing about his own side's success while I've been guilty of crowing about someone else's failure. You could argue that, of the two of us, my tendency is uglier than his. In fact, there's no argument there. That's correct.

My inability to play with the lead has gotten the attention of my bosses over the years, and they asked me to stop, and then they told me to stop, and so I've tried to stop. I'm still trying to stop. But it's like I've written about Riley Cooper and Chris Culliver -- when the world falls down on you, you can either decide the world is wrong, or you can look around and wonder if maybe you're wrong.

Now the world is falling down on Jim Irsay. Different circumstances, obviously, but the bigger point remains. Irsay isn't in danger of being cut by a team or scolded by a boss -- he is the team; he is the boss -- but the world is telling Irsay that he can't act the way he acts. That just because he has the upper hand, the best thing to do isn't to rub it in everyone's face.

Show some grace, Jim Irsay. Show some class. And if you don't know how to do it, then do what I've tried to do -- what I'm still trying to do -- and shut up.

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