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Irsay was an irascible sort. During his eventual stewardship of the Colts, he became known for ear-splitting midgame tirades in which he ordered coaches to bench quarterbacks, and he once fired a coach after a preseason loss, which necessitated a trip to the team bus by a 16-year-old Jim to apologize. Baltimoreans never forgave him for moving the team.

But when Jim describes his father, there is a hint of romanticism, too. He loved Las Vegas, Jim said, particularly playing baccarat. He had very good luck, Jim said, calling him a riverboat gambler, someone who was never afraid to lay it all on the table. That was a good personality for the deal with which he was going to become involved.

“He was very interested in the Montreal Expos in 1968,” Jim Irsay said. “Then he came to me and said — and I was only 11 years old at the time — he said, ‘Do you want the Rams or the Colts?’ I said the Rams. I always loved the Rams helmets, and I loved Roman Gabriel and those guys from the ’60s.”

Reeves, who paid $135,000 with a friend to purchase the then-Cleveland Rams in 1941 (the franchise moved to Los Angeles following the 1945 season), died in April 1971. As he predicted, his heirs looked to sell the team. It was clear almost immediately that Rosenbloom was interested. He was primarily living in New York and Miami by then, and he was looking for a new challenge. He was believed to have already looked into buying the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings. He may have considered buying the New Orleans Saints for his kids. He had even suggested his son could run the Colts, and Rosenbloom would buy the Rams. Rozelle nixed all those ideas — the NFL rules then prohibited such cross-ownership arrangements.

“People around the league knew that Carroll Rosenbloom had a desire to be the NFL owner in Los Angeles, and he was used to getting what he wanted,” said Joe Browne, who spent 50 years working in the league office, including 20 years working for Rozelle. “I would not put him on the list of quiet, self-effacing sports owners.”

Rozelle suggested Rosenbloom sell the Colts and then buy the Rams, and there were plenty of suitors who were interested in relieving Rosenbloom of the Colts. But there was a problem Rosenbloom wanted to avoid: the estimated $4.4 million capital gains tax bill Rosenbloom would have faced had he sold the Colts.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly who came up with the unorthodox idea of a trade, although once Rosenbloom made clear he wanted to own the Rams, it seems likely it was an anonymous accountant or lawyer who devised a way to reverse engineer the desired result.

In the meantime, the Miami Dolphins had fired a personnel executive, Joe Thomas, who had been a key to Joe Robbie’s purchase of the Dolphins. Rozelle suggested to Rosenbloom that Thomas might be able to find a buyer for the Colts. He had two: Willard Keland and Clem Ryan, who together agreed to buy the Rams for $19 million and then trade the team to Rosenbloom in exchange for the Colts.

“Commissioner Rozelle was as surprised as anyone when he first learned of the possible franchise trade, but neither he nor others around the league could think of a legit reason to prevent it,” Browne said.

The deal hit a snag: Keland and Ryan were short of money. Thomas, then, came up with Irsay — who, having first worked for his father’s heating and air conditioning business, had begun his own company based in Skokie, Illinois — to make up the difference. Irsay didn’t know Rosenbloom, and he didn’t know Thomas, Ryan or Keland well, either. They met in a coffee shop in a New York hotel. The others asked Irsay if he had $5 million to clinch the deal. When, ultimately, Keland and Ryan dropped out, Irsay was left with the entire $19 million tab. It was the largest amount ever paid for any professional sports team, topping the $16 million Leonard Tose had paid for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969.

Now, as one might expect in a story such as this, with many strings being pulled by powerful figures behind closed doors, there are variations in the historical record. The Chicago Tribune reported Irsay was more aggressive in pursuing the deal, defeating Keland in a battle for majority ownership of the Colts. There is also the claim by another potential owner, Hugh Culverhouse, that a “handshake deal” to purchase the Rams from the Reeves estate for $17 million (as he later told The New York Times) was usurped by the Rosenbloom-Irsay arrangement. (Culverhouse eventually became the owner of the expansion Buccaneers.) But the events described above, which were also detailed in Sports Illustrated, align with Jim Irsay’s recollections.

“He showed up to buy 30 percent of the team or so, and the other investors bailed, so he said, ‘I’ll take 100 percent,’ and he put everything he had into it,” Jim Irsay said. “He had sold the Robert Irsay Company for $5 million. My mom had to go to the bank to sign the check for everything he had. She always reminded him of that.”