ATLANTA -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, appearing in public for the first time since his March arrest for allegedly driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance, declined to discuss his personal situation in a 12-minute meeting with reporters as he prepares to help make the pitch for Indianapolis to host Super Bowl LII.
Irsay's situation has become a potentially thorny one for the NFL, which -- with his return to work and his presence here -- will likely face increasing questions about whether Irsay will face league discipline. Irsay left his team almost immediately after his arrest to enter a treatment program, but he returned to the team some time before the draft, and he was photographed in the team's war room during the 2014 NFL Draft. Irsay has not been formally charged. With his legal situation in flux, Irsay was careful not to delve into any details of his health or whether he would address his situation with other owners Tuesday.
But he did make it clear that even during his time away he remained in close contact with those running the team -- general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano. All last week, he said, he spoke with pass rusher Robert Mathis, who has been suspended for four games for taking a performance-enhancing drug. He called Mathis a treasured member of the organization and said there was great support for him. And Irsay said that his message to his team and staff upon his return to work was that he would try to be the best steward he could be.
"I haven't been in a coma or anything like that," Irsay said. "I've been clued into everything that's been going on the last few months. It's good to be at this meeting, really kind of focus on the Super Bowl bid. I'm really not going to talk about any personal medical issues or that sort of thing but just grateful to be back and certainly have a lot of appreciation for the support I've received. I'm all in. It feels good to be back and I'm excited about our chances tomorrow."
Irsay, flanked by other members of Indianapolis' Super Bowl bid committee, appeared healthier than he has in years. He has long suffered with hip and back pain that have caused him to hunch over and walk haltingly. On Monday, he stood up straight and said that, physically, he was feeling "decent," while he continues with physical rehabilitation in the hopes of avoiding more surgery. Irsay did not offer details about what kind of treatment he received after his arrest.
Irsay could be subject to discipline from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under the league's personal conduct policy, but the league is likely to wait until the scope of Irsay's legal issues is clarified before acting. Irsay said he expects to speak with Goodell while in Atlanta but that their conversation would remain private. Irsay also would not say whether he thought his arrest might impact Indianapolis' Super Bowl bid. Irsay will speak on behalf of the city for a few minutes Tuesday. New Orleans is considered the favorite to land the game over Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
Irsay has been around the NFL since he was a child and his father Robert owned the team. He has spoken candidly in the past about previous struggles with addiction and with his own desire to not too closely follow his father's lead. Robert was known for his volatile behavior, and his angry outbursts sometimes necessitated that his teenage son trail behind to apologize. Irsay, who owns the original scroll on which Jack Kerouac wrote the manuscript for "On the Road," has said that he has been hugely influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon as he has led the Colts through a period of remarkable stability and success. On Monday, Irsay called the NFL a family business, and his daughters -- who had steered the team in his absence and are being groomed to eventually succeed him -- are here with him this week.
Irsay would not say whether he thought he owed Colts fans or Indianapolis an apology for his arrest. But when he was asked how he felt about being back at a league meeting, he gave a glimpse of a piece of what is at stake as his future is determined.
"It's a great privilege to be part of the NFL you don't take for granted every day," Irsay said. "You just treasure it."
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.