"Well, at the moment the atmosphere is unsettling," Curtis admitted. "Everybody's suddenly an employee; many of them are concerned because they're not being pampered as they once were."
Certainly that was the one tremendous difference the players talked about—the change effected by the absence of Carroll Rosenbloom, the former owner, who had put together the entity of the "Colt family." He did pamper them. Gregarious, easy in public, graceful with words, he enjoyed the closest of relationships, both socially and professionally, with his players. For some of them he could also be a true inspiration at football. Bubba Smith once told me, "What used to be in the Colt locker room was a good, sweet atmosphere—and I'd sit there before a game and know that the boss was going to be coming through and that he'd lean over me and he'd say, 'Let's have a good game,' not a pep talk, nothing like that, but he said it in a way that you knew you meant something to him, that you were not just a carcass. That was something I waited for every Sunday. Not much, was it? But afterward I felt like going out and ripping up the stadium for him."
The new owner, Irsay, is the antithesis of all this. He is a shy man, uncomfortable with people, who struggles through such public events as a press conference. At his first official appearance as the owner of the Colts, he announced into a battery of microphones that the trade for the Rams had been made and that "we have transpired a deal." Against his hopes, he remains distant from his team.
He has an astonishingly difficult time with players' names; rather than embarrass them by a mispronunciation or a clean miss he calls everyone "Tiger," or occasionally "Big Fellow." It seems almost a pathological difficulty. Bubba Smith, one of the most famous players on the team, he calls "Bobo," and even his general manager, Joe Thomas, a man to whom he talks twice a day on the phone, and who possesses a foolproof name, one would think, is referred to by Irsay with the "th" pronounced..."Joe 'Th'omas."
Irsay has appeared once before the whole team, prior to a preseason game in Kansas City. He arrived late. In fact, McCafferty went up to the hotel lobby to look for him, and while he was gone Irsay suddenly appeared and stepped up to say a few words. He was obviously extremely shy and awkward. He talked a little about himself. He said that he was a self-made man. He had parlayed $800 into an empire. He had married a Polish girl. At this point, John Idzik, the Polish assistant coach standing in the back of the room, gave a glad cry, which caused a ripple of merriment amongst the team. But the outburst seemed to startle Irsay. He finished up quickly, wishing the team luck in the game, and rushed from the room. McCafferty reappeared, looking slightly bewildered, and said that he had looked around in the lobby and Irsay was nowhere to be found.
"Well, he's come and gone," someone told him. "He talked. You missed it."
"Oh," said McCafferty.
Irsay is evidently much more at home in the large wood-paneled office of his air-conditioning plant in Skokie, Ill. Mementos are everywhere. Behind his desk are three mounted fish—a dolphin, a barracuda and a walleyed pike, all with jaws violently ajar, ready to snap.
"Let me tell you something," he said to me there. "After watching the Colts play 10 games and looking at the players, I knew I had to make changes. We had so much talent it was not even funny. But they didn't give a damn. Everyone sulked. Nobody knew who they were playing next to. Why, they had people in the locker room talking business before a game. Don McCafferty is one of the greatest guys personalitywise there is. But football-thinkingwise...his method doesn't work...because if you lose games, something's got to be wrong with the coaching."
He got up and began pacing swiftly around his office. He was wearing red again—tie, shirt and socks. His sentences came in sharp bursts. "I talked to Mac. I guess he didn't listen too carefully. I suggested that he start Domres. Well, if he had won with Unitas, he'd have looked good. Right? But he didn't. So that was it. It's my club. I paid $19 million. It's my $19 million." He glared at me.