SBD/Issue 100/Sports Industrialists

Benson, Irsay Experience Redemption With Super Bowl Appearance

Super Bowl Season Brings Redemption 
For Saints' Benson (l), Colts' Irsay (r)
The success of the Saints and Colts this season for Saints Owner TOM BENSON and Colts Owner JIM IRSAY "has produced something more significant than the normal degree of gratification that comes with winning football games," as for them, "success has brought redemption," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The names Benson and Irsay "once were reviled by fans in a couple NFL cities." Many Saints fans in New Orleans "expressed their contempt for Benson when they suspected in the months after Hurricane Katrina that he wanted to move the Saints from the city." Benson: "It's different than most people thought. It was just a matter of working through the circumstances. New Orleans needed the team there." Benson said keeping the team in New Orleans was the "right decision because it certainly has been a great thing" for the city. Benson: "We know it's back. But now we're telling the whole world that it's back." Meanwhile, in Irsay's case, the "ire from fans in Baltimore was aimed at his father, not him, after the late ROBERT IRSAY ... relocated the franchise to Indianapolis." Former NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE said Jim Irsay "certainly has taken to heart the pain and criticism heaped on his father." Tagliabue: "I think he's done a magnificent job of trying to be a solid citizen and making sure he never finds himself in the position of having to move the Colts again. ... He put (team president) BILL POLIAN in there. He's hired good coaches. He's engaged, but at the appropriate level" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/5).

MUCH RESPECT: In a sports-section cover story for USA TODAY, Jon Saraceno writes Irsay "has matured into a respected owner who still manages to stand out among his sometimes staid, blueblood brethren." In a world of "starched collars, the rock 'n' roll aficionado and guitar strummer remains mostly a tie-dye guy, at least at heart." Irsay, who is a member of the league's Finance Committee, is "anything but one of those intrusive owners who micromanage teams." Irsay "has transformed the once financially strapped Colts into a model franchise ... with Polian's astute personnel maneuvering," along with "shrewd investments outside football, plus two new stadiums since relocating to Indianapolis" in '84. Forbes valued the Colts "in excess" of $1B, and Irsay is "one of the few owners who own 100% of the team." Colts QB PEYTON MANNING: "Jim is everything you want in an owner. He knows football. He's in the locker room before and after the game to say the team prayer. But he doesn't call plays; he doesn't meddle." Chiefs Chair CLARK HUNT said of Irsay, "When he speaks at owners meetings, everyone listens. Frequently, he has insights the rest of us don't" (USA TODAY, 2/5).

IMAGE REFORM: USA TODAY's Saraceno notes Benson "hasn't always been the life of the Mardi Gras party in New Orleans," as "for years, players grumbled about their owner's frugalness." Benson's popularity "waned when he suggested the Saints could be moved without a new stadium," and it "worsened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when Benson appeared ready to relocate the franchise." Saints radio analyst and former Saints QB BOBBY HEBERT said Benson "doesn't have the greatest PR skills." But he added of Benson's past struggles, "That's all water under the bridge. When you win, people forget a lot" (USA TODAY, 2/5).

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