Let’s Celebrate Michael Irvin, The Most Cowboys Player Of All Time

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The Dallas Cowboys from the 1990s were supremely polarizing to anyone growing up in that time. The America’s Team thing put off some people, anyone who hated the Cowboys to begin with hated them even more, and everyone else seemed spellbound by the cast of characters and the fact that they were just so dang good.

Nowhere in those days save for maybe “The U” Miami teams had this much energy – good and bad – in one place self-sustaining for a number of years. And the only way that can work in the first place is if the team has so much talent (and knows it) that hubris isn’t even an issue.

Just imagine what it would’ve been like had social media and the news cycle as it exists today been around. But then again, had those things been in place, the Cowboys wouldn’t have been allowed to be the Cowboys. Inevitably something would’ve mucked it up.

The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years likely because this was the only time in history when that group of players smashed together could win three Super Bowls in four years. And as I get older, I’m more and more thankful for that, even if I was one of those individuals who was preconditioned to hate the Cowboys when I was younger.

There were so many interesting players and coaches between Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer and Troy Aikman and Jim Jeffcoat and Emmitt Smith and Leon Lett and Darren Woodson and Tony Tolbert and Deion Sanders and Charles Haley and Nate Newton and Daryl Johnston and others. But maybe nobody represented the Cowboys – the good, the bad and the ugly – better than Michael Irvin.

Irvin’s supreme self-confidence, his playing ability, his clothes, his quotes, his trash talking, that first-down celebration, just about everything about him was electric. And the stories, my goodness, the stories that came out of those days. It’s Irvin’s 49th birthday, so here’s just a sampling of what made him so memorable.

First, the numbers: 750 receptions. 11,904 yards. 47 100-yard games. Seven 1,000-yard seasons. Five Pro Bowls. Six postseason 100-yard games.

When Irvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2007, he was introduced by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who pretty much summed up what it was that made Irvin so memorable.

“I don’t know that we’ll see again a professional football player with a combination of his strength and his skills as an athlete on the field and his unbelievable people skills. Smart, resourceful, communication, charm, the kind of charisma and tremendous will with the strength to get the respect of the team. He had his faults. But in a unique way, that only Michael Irvin could pull off.

His fallibility by the people who followed him, by the people who were looking at him, his fallibility gave them strength because they knew, too, how fallible they were, and they wanted to see somebody that could go down and come up stronger and try to get better when they got on their feet. That’s what Michael Irvin brought to the Dallas Cowboys and his locker room.”

And for as much playmaking as there was, and there was plenty of playmaking, there were those mistakes that made him human.

There, of course, was the White House where Irvin and other Cowboys players could bring women. The time Irvin spouted off at TV cameras, saying “the media can’t control my mouth” after being questioned by reporters following his emotional speech crediting Switzer after the Cowboys beat the Packers in the NFC Championship that just so happened to involve some swearing. What about the time he attacked guard Everett McIver with scissors over a haircut? Or the limo, according to Jeff Pearlman in his book Boys Will Be Boys, that Irvin rented before Super Bowl XXX so he could have a rolling, constant party.

Via Pearlman:

Irvin enthusiastically endorsed the port-a-skank concept and, in fact, rented his own 10-passenger, 30-foot monstrosity customized with a black leather-and-brushed crome interior (and equipped with a bounty of Absolut Vodka and hip-hop CDs). What baffled some about Irvin’s ways was that his wife Sandy was intelligent, loving, an excellent mother to the couple’s two daughters-and drop-dead gorgeous. “She’s the most beautiful black woman I’ve ever seen with my eyes,” says Kenny Gant, the former Cowboy defensive back. “I’ve loved her to death since the first time I met her.” Yet Irvin-who sported a large gold cross around his neck-never thought twice about professing his devotion toward his family one minute, then jumping into the hot-tub with two coked-up strippers the next. Why, on the evening before the Cowboys departed for Tempe, Irvin had partied with a pair of prostitutes at the Irving Residence Inn.

Not to mention the 1996 drug trial following Irvin’s 30th birthday party with two topless dancers in which police seized 10 grams of cocaine and more than an ounce of weed along with sex toys that earned Irvin a five-game suspension and kept him from another 1,000-yard season. And in Irvin fashion, he arrived to the trial the way everyone probably expected him to.

Via Skip Hollandsworth of Texas Monthly from Sept. 1996:

It was Irvin’s full-length mink coat, which he wore along with a diamond stud earring for his grand jury appearance last spring, that let everybody know this wasn’t just a simple drug possession case; it was going to resemble a Las Vegas floor show. Courtroom employees oohed and ahhed at Irvin and the coat. One woman asked him to autograph her Bible. Irvin, who calls himself the Playmaker and parks his black Mercedes in the no-parking zone at the Cowboys’ training facility, basked in the attention. He considered himself untouchable—and why shouldn’t he?

This is the same 1996 drug trial that ultimately uncovered details of a Dallas policeman who had been hired to kill Irvin after Irvin allegedly threatened the policeman’s wife. (The officer was later arrested and charged.)

Irvin’s story is also a story of redemption and rebuilding, and he’s done everything from participate on Dancing With The Stars to host that 4th And Long reality show to cameo in the remake of The Longest Yard to become a successful TV analyst to give advice to young players at the NFL rookie symposium.

When Irvin gave his Hall of Fame speech, he thanked God and just about every member of the Cowboys organization, but he also talked a lot about his family and wanting to do right by them.

“You know the Bible speaks of a healing place, “Irvin said. “It’s called a threshing floor. The threshing floor is where you take your greatest fear and you pray for help from your great God. I want to share something with you today. I have two sons. Michael, he’s 10, and Elijah, he’s 8. Michael and Elijah, could you guys stand up for me. That’s my heart right there. That’s my heart. When I am on that threshing floor, I pray. I say, God, I have my struggles and I made some bad decisions, but whatever you do, whatever you do, don’t let me mess this up.”

Happy Birthday, Playmaker.