Bob Irsay did not make it to his office in Skokie, Ill., yesterday and there was a temptation to jump to conclusions after his baffling generosity Sunday in the Baltimore Colt dressing room following a 13-10 loss in Cleveland.
After Toni Linhart missed three field goals, from 32, 18 and 28 yards, the last of which came with six seconds to play and could have sent the game into overtime, Irsay, the team's owner, told the placekicker he was going to get a $10,000 raise "just for trying."
A telephone call yesterday to the Colt Construction Co. brought the information that the boss, Irsay, was at home with the flu.
"Well, he certainly wasn't celebrating on Sunday," the voice at the other end of the line said.
The voice was asked if Irsay might pay a sportswriter for not writing a story.
"Just send in your bill," came the reply. "The people here who did not do a good job today are expecting raises."
Irsay's largesse inspired a rumor that the Colts' coaches were going to get raises of $3,500 each for achieving an 0-3 record. That was started by a Baltimore sportswriter and defensive line coach Eddie Khayat was taken in by it.
Another pro football figure wondered if Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, was going to fire Don Cockroft for kicking the game-winning field goal.
The Colts checked with Irsay yesterday before processing the raise for Linhart and the club owner said he was, indeed, serious Sunday and approved the $10,000 boost.
The National Football League disapproves of payments during a season that might be construed as incentive bonuses, but an official said yesterday Linhart's raise was permissible, since it amounts to a renegotiated salary.
A Colt source said Irsay wanted to be gracious to Linhart out of sympathy; that Irsay suspected the media would be expecting him to come storming into the dressing room.
There had been criticism of Linhart last week and speculation that Ted Marchibroda was about to be dropped as coach.
"Irsay is really a great guy," the team source said, "and he tried to react the opposite to what was expected of him. He wanted to do the right thing for Linhart while he was at rock bottom in a slump."
Irsay and the coaching staff recalled that Linhart has won some big games for the Colts. In 1977 a field goal in a fog against Miami got Baltimore into the playoffs, and a week ago a 38-yard field goal enabled the Colts to go into overtime. He made the Pro Bowl in 1976 and 1977.
"It wasn't funny in the dressing room," the source said.
"On top of (star quarterback) Bert Jones being hurt, Marchibroda has been waiting for three weeks to give his wife (Henrietta) a game ball from the squad. She underwent 9 1/2 hours of plastic surgery following an automobile accident before our first game. Now we're 0-3.
"Bert Jones warmed up before Sunday's game. We expect him to be recovered from a deep bruise on his throwing shoulder after two more weeks."