Every football fan will remember the 90’s as the Dallas Cowboys’ Decade of Dominance. The first brick of the foundation was laid when a flamboyant wide receiver was drafted in 1988. This is a tribute to the man known as “The Playmaker”. Let’s take a little walk through the life of one of the games most competitive and out spoken players Michael Irvin.
Former Dallas Cowboys WR, Michael Irvin, was born on March 5th, 1966 in Fort Lauderdale Florida. He was the 15th of 17 children. His father Walter, having 2 from a previous marriage, and his mother Pearl, already having 6, added 9 more children to their new family. Life was hard growing up for Michael; he lived in a home where food had to go a long way. Sometimes he had to eat mayonnaise and ketchup sandwiches to keep the growling of his stomach down. There were some Christmas’ without presents. Through it all, Michael Irvin dreamed of a better, easier life. As a teenager, he was determined to make things better for himself and his family. While hanging with the wrong crowd, Michael made some very poor decisions. Some of those decisions caused him to be suspended from Piper High School during his sophomore year.
Walter Irvin decided his son needed a change, and he enrolled Michael in St. Thomas Aquinas High School(a private catholic school) in 1982. The authorities at Piper did not want to give up their star athlete, so they protested the transfer and refused to sign the waiver required to allow him to participate in athletics. As a result, Michael had to sit out his junior year. Michael worked out during the summer to ensure the year layoff would not slow down his game; he entered his senior year at 6-3 195lbs. The Tuesday before his debut, he lost his father to cancer. In his first game, he caught 4 passes for 90 yards, including a 15 yard touchdown pass. He later said that touchdown was for his father. The team went undefeated in the regular season.
As the football team was getting ready for the playoffs, the basketball coach gave Michael a pair of high tops to get ready for the upcoming season. He put the shoes aside and said they would have to wait until football was over:
“I love basketball, but right now I am not even thinking about it”.
The football team was bound for the state championship and that was his focus. Both coaches and the school thought Michael made the right choice. His quest to bring the school a state championship ended with a 33-7 loss to then defending state champions Titusville. In his final high school game, Michael Irvin caught 8 passes for 153 yards, including a 38 yard touchdown pass despite being double and triple teamed during the entire game.
Following his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas, Michael Irvin was highly recruited by Jimmy Johnson and the University of Miami. When he won the starting spot at Miami, he became known not only for his athletic ability, but for his ego and never closed mouth. Hoping his enthusiasm and ability would spread through the team, Jimmy Johnson and the rest of the Miami coaching staff gave Michael Irvin a lot of leeway. In his three years as the starter, he set individual Miami University football records for 143 career catches (broken by Reggie Wayne 173), 2423 career receiving yards (broken by Santana Moss 2546) and 26 touchdown receptions (still stands) to earn the nickname “The Playmaker”.
He capped off his college career by leading The U to their first undefeated season since going 8-0 in their inaugural season in 1926 under Howard Buck. Most people thought 1987 would be a rebuilding year for Jimmy Johnson and company, but they just steam rolled the competition with huge wins over arch-rivals University of Florida, Florida State, and Notre Dame. Only 3 regular season games were decided by 10 points or less. They capped off the season by giving Jimmy Johnson vindication over the school that looked him over with a BIG win in the Orange Bowl against the University of Oklahoma. Michael Irvin finished the year with 44 catches for 715 yards and 6 touchdowns.
With the number 11 pick in the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select.
Forgoing his last year of college eligibility, Michael Irvin decided to enter the 1988 NFL Draft. Little did we know at the time, this would be the last first round pick for Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt, and Tom Landry. Tex predicted Michael would be to key to bringing the Dallas Cowboys back into contention. With that in mind, he was given the sacred number 88 made famous by another Dallas Cowboys All-Pro receiver, Drew Pearson. In addition, Michael would be the first rookie receiver in Cowboys history to start a game in 20 years. He led the NFC with a 20.4 yards per catch average. He was reunited with his college coach, Jimmy Johnson in 1989.
After missing most of the 1989 season, the first 5 games of 1990 and the Dallas Cowboys missing the playoffs, Michael broke out in 1991 with 93 receptions for a league leading 1523 yards. He was rewarded with his 1st of 5 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and a selection to the 1991 All-Pro Team. This led everyone to believe Tex Schramm was correct in his evaluation of Michael. With a taste of a post season return, Michael Irvin went to work. Between 1991 and 1998, he recorded 1,000 plus yards receiving in all but one year (1996). His stats during that 8 year span were 662 catches for 10,265 yards, 50 touchdowns.
Michael was the key in numerous playoff, championship, and Superbowl victories for the Dallas Cowboys, but his almost certain future Hall of Fame status was tarnished in 1996. First it was an arrest for cocaine possession that led to a 5 game suspension. Later in the year, there was a sexual assault charge while the Dallas Cowboys were preparing for their NFC playoff game. The charges were later dropped when it was determinedÂ the victim made up her story. By then, the damage had already been done. The media circus caused the Cowboys to lose focus on the game. Michael also broke his collar bone during that game which would have ended his season even if Dallas won.
After recovering, Michael returned to form and had good years in 1997 and 98. In the 5th game of the season in 1999, Michael was tackled and went head first into the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium turf. He had to be carted off to the deafening cheers of the Philadelphia Eagles fans. Later in an interview, Michael Irvin said he expected their fans to cheer about his injury since he has been “burning them for the last 10 years”. Little did we know, this would be the last play in the NFL career of Michael Irvin. Upon his retirement, Michael Irvin was the last Tom Landry coached player to retire and the ONLY Dallas Cowboy to play under the first 4 head coaches in the team’s history (Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Chan Gailey). He was a Dallas Cowboy when Dave Campo was announced as head coach, but officially announced his retirement before he could take the field under his leadership.
Michael finished his Dallas Cowboys career with 750 receptions (30th), 11,904 yards (21st), and 65 touchdowns. His 47 100-yard games are ranked third behind Jerry Rice (65) and Don Maynard (50). Michael Irvin was just as dominant in the post season. Michael’s six 100-yard games are only 2nd behind Jerry Rice (8). He is also 2nd in post season receptions (87) and yards (1315) again behind Jerry Rice (151 and 2245 respectively). Being a big physical receiver at 6-2 207 pounds, Michael would over power defensive backs. His physical type of play caused the NFL to make rule changes to make adjustments for other receivers who imitated Michael Irvin’s style of play. Although he displayed a flashy style and was always animated on the field, Michael Irvin was the vocal and emotional leader of his Dallas Cowboys teams. As most of his former teams state, he was the hardest working guy on the team and the ideal teammate. Michael Irvin tied or owned 20 of the Dallas Cowboys receiving records, including catches and receiving yards. As the old Madden game said, “The whole trend of big physical wide receivers in the NFL began with Michael Irvin.”
Life After Football
Following his retirement, Michael Irvin started his studio and radio career. He started at Fox Sports. It was a bumpy start. During negotiations in 2000, Michael was arrested; Fox terminated the talks. This incident caused Michael to re-evaluate his life, and he started a new spiritual beginning. It convinced Fox to give him another chance. After becoming a regular panelist on The Best Damn Sports Show, he was given a permanent spot on the NFL Today Show.
In 2003, Michael Irvin joined ESPN as an NFL analyst. This venture came to a screeching halt in 2007 when Michael made a joke about Tony Romo and his ability to scramble in the pocket. Jokingly saying on ESPN radio that Tony Romo’s speed might have resulted by a ‘maternal ancestors mating with a slave’. Michael later said that he jokes around with Tony like that all the time and meant nothing by the statement. His removal from ESPN came right before he was announced as being part of the NFL Hall of Fame Class of 2007.
Michael knew because of past digressions he would have a hard time getting into the exclusive NFL Hall Of Fame. Irvin was inducted after his third time appearing on the ballot. Prior to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was only fitting Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith were inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor together on September 19, 2005. Michael then joined the NFL Network in 2009 as one of the pregame analysts. His duties have expanded in recent years to include things like: player/coach interviews, having a camera installed at his home just in case they need him to comment on a breaking news story, etc.
Through all his ups and downs, Michael Irvin is still the same young boy from Florida dreaming of a way to a better life. He kept his promise to his father: Michael Irvin takes care of his mother. He is living by 2 things his mother told him when he was young:
“If you don’t go through nothing, you don’t know nothing. You can’t tell nobody nothing. But when you have been through something, you know something”Â
“God is going to open the door and ain’t nobody going to be able to close it.”
Countless years, Superbowl wins, and many records later, Michael Irvin is still walking through doors. He is just ensuring others walk through those doors with him. Thank you Playmaker for showing us how to play with the love of the game in our hearts, the passion to win in our eyes, and the will to overcome no matter what may come our way!