INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jim Irsay’s ultimate goal hasn’t changed. Never will.
He’s the owner who raised more than a few eyebrows when lamenting how his Indianapolis Colts cultivated just one Super Bowl championship during the Peyton Manning era.
Yes, he’s the owner who in the past has set a high bar for success. Not just another Lombardi Trophy to go alongside the won embraced after the 2006 season, but two. Three in a row, in fact.
Here was Irsay at the NFL owners meetings in March.
“You guys know, I will unabashedly say, I’d like to win three in a row,’’ he said. “How hard is it? I mean it’s hard as hell just to win one.
“But you have to dream big. That’s what we do.’’
And there Irsay was again, addressing the media Saturday afternoon during a lull in the marathon NFL Draft.
Lombardi Trophies still were dancing in his head.
“I just have a certainty in my heart that this organization is going to bring a parade and that Lombardi Trophy is going to be risen again down Main Street, for the lack of a cliché,’’ Irsay said. “It will happen, gentlemen. I promise you it will.
“I have never felt so certain about something in my life.’’
It hasn’t been that long ago Irsay’s Colts were that close to returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009. It was January 18, 2015 and a signature second-round win at Denver had led them to an AFC Championship game showdown at New England.
They crashed and burned, 45-7. A pair of 8-8, non-playoff seasons followed. Then a 4-12 finish during the Andrew Luck-less 2017.
Along the way, general manager Ryan Grigson was fired and replaced by Chris Ballard in 2017. After ’17, Chuck Pagano was let go and replaced by Frank Reich.
Irsay insisted he had to push the reset button.
“It’s no secret what it was with Ryan and Chuck, two men I think the world of and both two really talented guys,’’ he said. “But for whatever reason, there was just some clashing and that meant a lot of time on my part to try to resolve that and ultimately we kind of moved into where we are in the present day.’’
Irsay describing the pairing of Ballard and Reich as “exciting.’’
“They really are harmonious, singing from the same choir bench,’’ he said. “Tremendous enthusiasm, energy, excitement those guys just bring.
“It’s no secret: quarterback, head coach, general manager. That’s my responsibility. I’ve got to make sure those things are right. Once things are right, I step back. I sign checks. That’s the way it should be. As long as this right hand doesn’t get hurt, everyone’s happy in the organization.’’
What’s needed to make everyone in the organization ecstatic is once again returning to, in Irsay’s words, Mount Everest. That would be the Super Bowl.
“It’s a big deal to make it happen,’’ he said. “When I’ve said three in a row, that’s because how can you get up and go to work except wanting to be the absolute best ever? No other thinking makes any sense to me.
“I have the vision that the Indianapolis Colts are going to be known as one of the greatest franchises that ever existed. And for us to do that we need to be generationally successful and we’re on to the new generation.’’
The Manning era Colts set a high bar. From 2000-09, they set an NFL record for wins in a decade (115), reached the playoffs nine times, advanced to the Super Bowl twice and won the one world title.
Since 2000, the Colts’ 203 victories are the NFL’s third-most behind New England (255) and Pittsburgh (212). Since their relocation in 1984, their 309 wins rank 10th.
Now, the Colts are in resurgent mode. After enduring a three-year playoff drought, they returned to the postseason in 2018 with a 10-6 record and won a first-round game at Houston.
Ballard has upgraded the top-to-bottom strength of the roster and Andrew Luck has made a complete recovery from the shoulder issue that forced him to miss all of 2017.
In the four seasons Luck hasn’t dealt with shoulder issues, the Colts were 11-5, 11-5, 11-5 and 10-6. They reached the postseason each season and won at least one game three times.
“I don’t think anything sets up better for us,’’ Irsay said. “However, it’s still hard. It’s hard to win in this league. You go at every game that way.
“When I look at our football team and see where we were and I know how much better we are now, it’s really exciting,’’ Irsay said. “But we have to take it and transmit it to wins.’’
Enough wins, that is, to secure one of the AFC’s top two seeds, a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.
“We’re talking about wanting to be two games away from the Super Bowl and staying at home,’’ Irsay said. “That’s what we want to do. That isn’t easy, but if we can do that, that really sets you up for a tremendous opportunity for greatness.
“Every game counts a lot because you can’t have many losses if you’re going to have one of the two top seeds to have home-field advantage.
“I’ll do what it takes to win. It’s all about how can we be as good as we can be? That means everything to me. Besides my children and grand children, that’s all I live for.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.