Will tax issue prompt Irsay on Colts name? Indy GM embraces 'lineage,' but listens to offer due to estate fears

Mentions $25 million figure

Modell plans meeting to 'see where it goes'

March 12, 1996|By VITO STELLINO | VITO STELLINO,SUN STAFF

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Unless Art Modell is willing to make Jim Irsay an offer he can't refuse to solve Irsay's estate tax problems, Indianapolis probably is going to keep the Colts nickname. TC That's what Irsay, son of Colts owner Bob Irsay and team president and general manager, indicated yesterday at the NFL owners meetings, saying he doesn't expect to sell the Colts nickname to Modell, owner of the new Baltimore team.

"My gut feeling says it's something that's not going to happen," Irsay said. "I would really emphasize that because I don't see myself parting with it, and it's my decision and my decision only, but you always listen."

Although the two sides have yet to schedule a meeting this week, Irsay said the only reason that he'll even listen to Modell is that he'll face estate tax problems when his father, who is ill after suffering a stroke in November, dies.

"The only reason the door is cracked open a slight way is because of the estate issue," Irsay said. "You've got to deal with it. One of the reasons Art moved was to begin the process for him to estate plan and to keep the team for David [Modell's son] and his family."

Jim Irsay said arrangements are being made to keep the team in the family, but he said, "There's only so much debt that you can service and be competitive in this free-agency world. If you talk with any owner who's been through that transition, it's something you have to attack in a lot of different ways.

"Obviously, if I were [New York Jets owner] Leon Hess and I had an infinite amount of dollars and there was no estate planning, I think the conversation would probably be zero."

It might be difficult, though, for Modell to reach a figure that would interest Irsay.

"I really do not have a strong desire to do anything," Irsay said. "I think you can see in this day and age, that $25 million or something along that line, that's gone in a couple of signing bonuses for a couple of players. That [Colts] lineage, that symbol goes on for decades and decades and decades. It's really difficult to give something up like that just for a dollar sign, because it has such a large meaning to your identification."

When Irsay was asked if he thought he'd get a $25 million offer, he said: "I don't have an expectation. Honestly, it's not something I'm sitting around thinking about and waiting for. I don't know if there's a firm out there that would say what's a fair market value."

Modell has indicated that he was interested in offering about $5 million. Modell said he didn't want to discuss the matter yesterday, but said he planned to meet with Irsay this week and "see where it goes."

Irsay said Modell hasn't made a formal offer yet. "Art just came up to me at the meeting in Chicago [in February] and just briefly mentioned it," he said. "I expressed to him that I really didn't have an interest, but that if he wanted to run something by me, I'd be willing to listen."

Irsay said commissioner Paul Tagliabue also asked him if he'd be willing to give up the name.

"His feelings are that if he could facilitate something, you could look at it as being two pluses," he said. "If Indianapolis could find a new identity and Baltimore could reclaim an old identity, it'd be two positives. He was just talking through scenarios, but, again, I would say it's very unlikely."

Tagliabue confirmed he discussed the matter with Irsay.

"I told him that he should view it not from the standpoint of Baltimore, but from the standpoint of his own team," the commissioner said. "If he wanted me to help in any way to sort through his thinking on any aspect of it, I'd be glad to do that. He basically said he'd get back to me."

Irsay apparently has too much of a sentimental attachment to the name Colts to give it up easily.

"You have to respect the fact that this team started in Dallas and went to Baltimore and then Indianapolis," he said. "The [Quentin] Coryatts and [Jim] Harbaughs were teammates of guys that were teammates of guys that were teammates of Bert Jones and Johnny Unitas. It's like a lineage.

"I do feel the horseshoes are a very unique symbol, and there is a lot of sentimental attachment to that. I emphasize that when you change names, it's forever. It's something that goes on for decades. That's the reason I don't know how you put a price tag on that sort of thing."

Irsay noted that the Colts have played 12 seasons in Indianapolis and eventually will play longer in Indianapolis than they did in Baltimore. He said they have an identity there as the Colts.

"Maybe if we would have moved at the same time they moved and this might have been happening simultaneously, it might have been different," he said.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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