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Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has turned Twitter into a creative outlet
Irsay, whose wealth is estimated at $1.4 billion, has hosted trivia contests and scavenger hunts, giving away a trip to the Pro Bowl and frequently cash and game tickets. He allowed his followers to pick which local charity would receive his $25,000 donation. He gave away a snow shovel when the weather turned bad this week, and gave away a new Toyota Prius to the fan who correctly guessed the car was stuffed with 701 footballs.
"I remember as a kid, calling into WCFL in Chicago, just wishing they'd answer the line," Irsay says. "Thirteenth caller wins a radio T-shirt, and I'd just be dying to get it."
While many NFL figures are on Twitter, Irsay didn't want to use the account to simply thank fans for showing up each Sunday.
"It's kind of like a restaurant menu," he says. "People won't like every single thing on the menu. Some people might want harder NFL stuff, some people might want music, some might want to philosophize, some might want to talk about words. It's an amazing medium in that respect."
As a whole, his prolific Twitter use at least highlights part of what separates him from the other 31 NFL owners, and especially from the previous owner of the Colts - his father, Robert Irsay.
While Jim Irsay clings to many good memories, his father's shortcomings are well-documented: alcohol abuse, moving his team in the dead of night from Baltimore, burning bridges with fans, players and civic leaders. Robert Irsay's own mother famously likened him to the devil.
Robert Irsay died in 1997 and Jim Irsay took over control of the team, becoming the youngest owner in the NFL at the time, a daydream he had entertained since he was a teenager in the Baltimore locker room.
"Sitting there in '97 at 37 years old, preparing my whole life to have a chance and be an owner and do it the way you want to, your vision," Irsay says,"when you look back at that, we've come a long ways."
Turning a team around
After more than a decade of poor attendance and terrible performances, the team hired General Manager Bill Polian in 1997 and drafted quarterback Peyton Manning the next spring. Since then, the Colts have won at least 10 games in nine straight seasons, reached the playoffs nine consecutive years - tying an NFL record - and won their division in seven of the past eight seasons.
Because of his management style, Irsay receives much of the credit. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, in fact, calls Irsay the best owner in the league.
"He has evolved," said Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. "I know when I got there, he didn't want to spend a lot of time around the team, didn't want to come in the locker room. He thought that was kind of the coach's domain. I think recently he's grown into that and feels okay with that. He's around a lot more, which I know the players appreciate."
Current Colts Coach Jim Caldwell says Irsay's history with the game, dating from his time as a ballboy in Baltimore, gives him an understanding and appreciation of a football team that most owners may not have.