NFL

The Bizarre Trade That Allowed Jim Irsay and His Family to Own the Colts

With the NFL draft upon us, it’s expected that some trades will take part over the course of the event. Many weird draft-day deals have occurred in years past, including when the New Orleans Saints sent an overhaul of picks to the Washington Redskins for running back Ricky Williams. Trades are a part of football and always will be. The strangest trade of all, however, happened in 1972 and involved the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Colts.

Baltimore Colts owner wanted out of the city

Back in the very early 1970s, Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Baltimore Colts, had been looking for a way to move his franchise out of Baltimore. The team had just won Super Bowl V, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in January of 1971, and Rosenbloom felt the fans didn’t appreciate the team. According to a 1972 article in the New York Times, three games during the 1971 season that followed the Super Bowl win averaged 16,000 fans per contest.

According to the article, Rosenbloom had been shopping for a new location for the team. He had explored Columbia, Maryland and Tampa, Florida, but received tons of backlash from the fans. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and other NFL team owners were also against such a move.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Rams owner Dan Reeves had just passed away in April of 1971. Reeves had owned the team since 1941 when he paid $135,000 to purchase the then-Cleveland Rams. He moved the team to Los Angeles in 1945. After his death, Reeves’ estate put the team up for sale.

Los Angeles Rams sold to Robert Irsay

When the Los Angeles Rams franchise was put up for sale following the 1971 NFL season, Hugh Culverhouse was on the cusp of purchasing the team when he submitted a bid of $17 million. Culverhouse was outbid at the last minute, but eventually fulfilled his dream of owning an NFL team when he bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the early 1970s.

Beating Culverhouse to the punch was Robert Irsay of Chicago who swooped in and made a then-record offer of $19 million. Culverhouse, who said he had a handshake agreement with the Reeves estate to purchase the LA Rams, sued the NFL.

Culverhouse settled his suit with the league and the sale went through to Irsay. He wound up owning his team when the league expanded two years later, adding franchises in Seattle and Tampa. Culverhouse was offered the Seattle franchise but decided to pursue the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he was living in Florida.

Jim Irsay now owns the Colts after the weirdest trade in NFL history

After Robert Irsay signed on the dotted line to purchase the Los Angeles Rams, he and Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom made a trade. It was a trade that didn’t involve any players. It was an unprecedented deal where there was a wap of franchises. Rosenbloom would get his wish of moving out of Baltimore, while Irsay, who was a huge fan of Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, would own the Baltimore team.

The deal went down on July 13, 1972. All contracts and personnel would remain in place. Rosenbloom insisted on the trade rather than a sale to avoid paying $4.4 million in capital gains taxes. In 1984, Irsay faced similar concerns Rosenbloom did about the lack of a new stadium and little fan support and moved his team to Indianapolis.

Robert Irsay died on Jan. 14, 1997. His son Jim has taken over the Indianapolis Colts franchise and has become one of the league’s wealthiest and influential owners.