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A Brief Retrospective Of HOF’er Michael Irvin

irvintd.jpgBorn and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Michael Jerome Irvin was the third-youngest in a family of 17 and played high school football at St. Thomas Aquinas.  He was recruited by the University of Miami to play college football and played for then-Head Coach of the Hurricanes, Jimmy Johnson.  In 1987, it was his 73-yard TD reception which proved the game winner against rival Florida State and gave the ‘Canes the National Championship.  Irvin set school records in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns for Miami.

Given the nickname “Playmaker” during his college years, he opted to enter the NFL draft in 1988 with a year left of college eligibility.   Irvin was sometimes called a hot-dogger due to his actions on the field during his college years, namely the pointing of both hands towards the sky after scoring and other antics.  He claimed it was all in tribute to his deceased father.  This nickname and reputation would follow him into the NFL.

Drafted in the first round with the 11th overall pick by the Cowboys, Irvin was the last player selected by fellow HOF’ers Tex Schramm and Tom Landry.  At 6’4″, 224 lbs., he was considered big for a WR at that time, but now it is quite standard for a WR to have such stature.    He also became the first rookie receiver to start and catch his first touchdown pass for the Cowboys in 20 years.  In his first season, Irvin led the NFC in yards per catch. 

He was reunited with Coach Johnson who replaced HOF coach Tom Landry after the ’88 season.  The Cowboys also drafted QB Troy Aikman in 1989 and RB Emmitt Smith in 1990 and Irvin’s career with the team took off .  He became affectionately known as one of “the Triplets” as Aikman, Irvin and Smith led the Cowboys in becoming one of the predominant football dynastys of the ’90’s. 

  From 1991-1998, he recorded 1,000-yard seasons in all but one and was voted into the Pro Bowl in five consectutive years from 1991-1995 being named Pro Bowl MVP in 1992.  During those 8 years, the Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls and played in 4 straight NFC Championship games all of which Irvin was a major contributor.  In the 1994 NFC Championship game, he set a record of 12 catches for 192-yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against the San Francisco 49’ers.  1995 was probably his best year during which he set an NFL record of 11 games, 7 straight, of over 100-yards receiving and led the Cowboys to their third Super Bowl title in 4 years.  One of his best perfomances was in Super Bowl XXVII against the Buffalo Bills where he scored 2 TD’s in a span of 18 seconds, one of the only times a player scored twice in one quarter of a Super Bowl.  He finished the game with 6 receptions for 114 yards and the 2 TD’s. 

Irvin also had his share of troubled times and controversy.  In 1996 after a birthday bash, Irvin was arrested in a Dallas hotel for felony possession of cocaine and received 4 years probation.  The NFL also suspended him for the first 5 games of the ’96 regular season.    Again in ’96, Irvin and another teammate, Erik Williams were implicated in a sexual assault charge by a local Dallas stripper who later admitted she had made everything up, but the damage had been done.  This is also the year he didn’t reach 1,000-yards receiving, but still managed 962 yards in 11 games.  At the end of the ’96 season, he also suffered a broken collarbone in the 1st Quarter of a playoff game against the Carolina Panthers.

Irvin returned in ’97 and again exceeded 1,000-yards receiving in both ’97 and ’98, however his TD production had decreased to a single TD in the ’98 season.  In 1999 on the road in Philadelphia at legendary Veterans’ Stadium, Michael Irvin’s career would meet its end.  After catching one of his historical slant pattern routes across the middle, Irvin was tackled and his head struck the turf violently.  He layed on the field for several minutes without moving as the unfriendly Eagles fans cheered.  After being carried off the field in a stretcher, it was later discovered that he had a cervical spinal cord injury but more importantly, he was diagnosed with a narrow spinal column.  Irvin was forced to retire.  The only player on the franchise to have played for all 4 of its first coaches and the last player to have played under beloved HOF’er Tom Landry.

In 2005, Irvin was enshrined into the Cowboys “Ring of Honor” along with teammates Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith.  He has publicly stated that this was the proudest moment of his life as the three players were extremely close during and after their playing days in Dallas. 

Following his playing years in the NFL, Irvin became an Analyst for ESPN where he continued his brash mannerisms and analysis of football.  In 2007, after some controversy regarding a remark he had made about current QB Tony Romo of the Cowboys, he was fired from ESPN after 3+ years of commentary for the network. 

For Cowboys fans, Irvin was a vocal, emotional leader, who set every significant career receiving mark in team history, such as catches and receiving yards. At the time of his retirement, he owned or was tied for 20 Cowboys receiving records.  Despite his “playmaker” style on the field and flashy personality, Irvin is most remembered by his fellow Cowboys as a consummate teammate, unselfish leader and the hardest working player during his time with the organization.  A person who made some mistakes in his personal life, but never let his team down.   Michael Jerome Irvin will formally be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies on August 4, 2007 in Canton, Ohio.

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