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Irsay Family at Home: Lift That Load, Carry That Marriage

December 01, 1987|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — On the street where the Irsays live, people like to say that the family that lifts together sticks together.

Jim Irsay, 28, vice president and general manager of the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts, is a power weightlifter who has competed as a 280-pound super-heavyweight, though his natural weight is 220.

His wife, Meg, is a body builder who, in her first contest, was named Miss Southern Indiana.

Jim placed second the first time he lifted competitively.

"Meg's trophy is twice as big as mine," he said proudly.

His, however, is the one on display at the Colts' new headquarters, where Jim's large, modern office overlooks a park that becomes a lighted deer crossing at night.

The Irsays have lifted weights together since they were married in their last year at Southern Methodist eight years ago.

They are the parents of three daughters, Carlie, 6; Casey, 4, and baby Kalen, all of whom, a neighbor said, obviously face weighty futures.

Kalen has interrupted her mother's body-building career. "But only temporarily," Meg said. "I'll get back to it."

Body-building and power lifting "are two sides of the same heavy coin," she added. "We lift weights four days a week, a couple of hours at a time, for different reasons.

"The objective in power lifting is to lift the most you can.

"The objective in body-building is to look the best you can--to get the most definition possible out of your muscles.

"It's fun in a way--all but the dieting. The dieting is gruesome."

The Irsays diet, and sometimes lift, at home, in the pleasant two-story, four-bedroom Tudor house they own on two wooded acres of Indianapolis--where Jim also plays his guitars and drums.

It was he who wrote the Colt fight song.

The most stressful interlude in their lives occurred a couple of years ago when Jim was putting on weight for a lifting contest and Meg was taking weight off.

"He wanted to be overweight and I had to be underweight," said Meg, who stands 5 feet 6 inches and, today, weighs 125.

Jim, 6-1, who has an 18-inch neck, a 37-inch waist and wears a size 52 jacket, grew that year from 220 to 280.

"We spent months going in opposite directions," his wife recalled. "Jim ate everything on the table and anything else he could find in the house.

"At the same time I was existing, somehow, for 12 weeks, on fewer than 1,000 calories a day. If you've ever measured calories, you know you can get about 1,000 of the little darlings in a teacup."

Night was the worst part.

"Jim set an alarm clock so he could get up in the middle of the night--every night--and take a protein supplement," Meg said.

"All I wanted to do was sleep. That's the only time I could stop thinking how hungry I was."

On the day of qualifying for the super-heavyweight contest, Jim's famous determination didn't seem to be paying off.

He was required to weigh 275 or more but came in at only 269.

"So I drank a gallon of water," he said. "As you know, a gallon of water adds up to eight pounds. I just made weight."

Their world wasn't that complicated when Meg and Jim were growing up on Chicago's well-to-do North Shore. They met at Winnetka High School. Her father was a financial consultant, his was in heating and air-conditioning and, eventually, football.

She tried two other schools before SMU, she said. "But our long-distance romance wasn't working."

The Colts' success this year under their young general manager has come as no surprise to her.

"Jim is a capable, caring person," Meg said. "And he works so hard. The team has been part of him since he was 13. His time, heart and effort all go into the team."

At the Colts' office, his associates agree.

"He listens to you," an employee said. "He speaks to you when he sees you, and he speaks well of you to others. And most important, he's a tireless worker."

They talk about the day of the Eric Dickerson trade, when Irsay accepted every call that came in from every major paper and broadcaster in the country.

Meanwhile, his office also made a list of the calls from smaller papers and stations.

And at the end of the long day, an aide asked him: "Who do you want to get back to?"

Said Irsay: "We'll call them all back. You never know when a guy on a small paper will become the guy on a big paper."

The constant thorn in Irsay's side is living with comparisons that are regularly made between him and his father, Robert, the club's owner.

Family friends do what they can to smooth out the public images. The other day, Ernie Accorsi, vice president of the Cleveland Browns who used to work for the Colts, said: "He has his mother's warmth and his father's competitive fire."

Jim himself sees the differences between him and Robert as mainly generational.

"His hero is John Wayne," Jim said. "Mine is John Lennon."

Meeting accusations that alcohol is a factor in Robert Irsay's behavior, Jim said: "He enjoys having a drink. It's not true that it's a problem."

Big Jim, in any case, is a light drinker, his friends and associates said.

"Jim has been known to take a beer," Meg Irsay said when the subject came up. "I don't really drink myself. To weightlifters, alcohol is poison."

And, to weightlifters, these weightlifters, at least, life apparently is beautiful, the more so when the football team wins.

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