Dallas Cowboys: A Tribute to Michael “The Playmaker” Irvin

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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.

MichaelIrvin2Former 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.

The U

MichaelIrvin.JimmyJohnsonFollowing 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.

MichaelIrvinAutoCardForgoing 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 determined  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.

MichaelIrvin4After 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

Michael IrvinFollowing 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”

“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!

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  • Football Mensa

    “Look up , get up and don’t ever give up.” I was there when he said those words at his HOF induction. One of my firends was also inducted that day and because of that I was sitting on the field when he spoke those now famous words. Even anti Cowboy’s fans were mesmerised by what hey had just heard. It was the grandest speech of the evening .
    Irvin was the SOUL of the 90’s dynasty.  Period !

    • Football Mensa

      Few remember the reason we drafted Michael was because in 1985 the Cowboys were primed and ready to draft Jerry Rice. The Niners had moved one spot a head of Dallas and took him right before the Cowboys pick. Dallas then drafted an immensely talented wr named Mike Sherrard from UCLA in 1986. He had it all. However he was injury prone. Suffering multilple broken legs. He just wasn’t able to remain healthy. He was on the roster from 86-88.
      In 1988 needing a replacement for Sherrard Dallas took Irvin.Things worked out ok. Btw Dallas picked Kevin Brooks after the Niners moved up and took Rice.

      • MichaelValentino

        Great memory. Sherrard ran a 4.23 40. Then he had that freak double fracture in training camp. I heard the news while up in Traverse City, MI. I had to drive all the way back to Chicago with a pit in my stomach. I thought Sherrard was going to be a star.
        The first time I ever saw Michael Irvin play was his freshman year with Miami. He wore no. 47. The year before, Eddie Brown, who wore no. 40 at Miami, was drafted in the 1st round by the Bengals.
        I saw Irvin in that game and immediately thought, “This kid is going to be great. I hope the Cowboys draft him someday.”
        Well, they did and he was great.

      • MichaelValentino

        Kevin Brooks was like 6’7″ 280, benched 450 lbs. Was a beast at Michigan. I thought he would be another Too Tall Jones. He was a good player but like Danny Noonan, he never reached the level the Cowboys envisioned of him.

        • Defense 28

          MichaelValentino you could put shante carver on this list also

        • Football Mensa

          Carver was the beginning of the end for Dallas. He was the first draft pick sans Jimmy. It was a sign of things to come.

        • Football Mensa

          Sherrard would have been a mega star. He even made Steve Pulleur look good. He was more talented than either Rice or Irvin. It was sad to watch him have to battle his health problems.
          Brooks had it all but just never put it together. Noonan was a dud. Too many roids. His strength wasn’t natural. Just not a natural football player. Tex and company had some horrific drafts to close out their careers.

        • MichaelValentino

          I was excited with the Sherrard pick. He wore no. 86 in Dallas and three years later played with the 9ers for a couple of seasons. I think he wore no. 88 in SF. He was going to be something special. Blazing speed, hands, ideal height. With Aikman coming on board later, the Cowboys would’ve had a lights out vertical attack. But such was not meant to be. Brooks disappointed. He dominated Big 10 play, was touted by the scouts, had all the measurables and turned out to be nothing more than a serviceable player for a few seasons.

        • MichaelValentino

          Noonan looked to be the heir apparent to Randy White’s legacy at right defensive tackle, just as White followed in the enormous footsteps of Bob Lilly. Noonan ran a 4.75, benched 505 lbs, squatted 750 lbs. I guess the later rumors of steroid use did prove true. In the 70s the Steelers entire O-line used anabolic steroids. Of course, it was not illegal in those days. The Steelers also were the first NFL team to do heavy powerlifting. It really showed on those linemen. They were just bigger and stronger than everyone else. Noonan had arms like the Steelers linemen, guys like Webster and Kolb and Mullins. Unfortunately for Noonan, by the late 80s steroids were outlawed. He no longer had that massive strength. End of a dream for yet another All-Pro at RDT for the Cowboys. Yes, the Cowboys braintrust did not draft well, overall, at the close of the 80s. Irvin was an exception though. They hit it big with him. Funny though, had Sherrard stayed healthy and hit his potential, the Cowboys may not have gone for Irvin.

        • MichaelValentino

          Carver was a very bad pick. The Cowboys thought by going back to ASU they were getting another Jim Jeffcoat. Carver was not even close. I think he had one sack in two years. Nothing jumped out at me when I watched him play. The Cowboys would’ve been better off with Texas DE Tony Brackens over Carver. Definitely a sign of things to come.

        • MichaelValentino

          Except with Brooks out of Michigan and Noonan out of Nebraska you had two bonafide collegiate stars who had great height/weight/strength/speed measurables. Carver was smaller and not even remotely as strong as Brooks or Noonan. I had no confidence in the Carver pick. I had huge hopes for Brooks/Noonan. I saw Dutton/White or Too Tall/White in those two guys. I saw a wasted first round pick with Carver from day one.

        • Defense 28

          MichaelValentino I agree with you on carver noonan and brooks were awful

    • MichaelValentino

      For me, the best HOF speech ever. I was reduced to tears that afternoon.

    • Balou71

      Football Mensa You said it!!! I listened to his speech over and over for about 2 weeks!

      • MichaelValentino

        Balou71 Football Mensa You could see in his face, in his voice how much he regretted putting his wife through so much, how much he wanted to do right as a husband and father, how much God has truly touched his life. From all the drugs and wild living and flamboyance to a humble man, broken by his past, and wanting to show his young sons what a man of integrity looks like. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sports-related speech like that.

        • Football Mensa

          Michael all the inductees have after parties in seperate tents. My friend who was inducted said to me “how bout your boy”…lol. My friend never played for Dallas and still gives me a hard time but he knew Irvin ruled the evening.

        • Balou71

          MichaelValentino Balou71 Football Mensa In one of the articles I read, he did not give his wife a preview of the speech. It was her first time hearing it also. This man shows what faith is all about.

        • MichaelValentino

          Football Mensa I loved Michael Irvin the player ever since he donned a Cowboys uniform. I loved Michael Irvin the man after that speech. It was amazing.

        • MichaelValentino

          Balou71 MichaelValentino Football Mensa Amen,Kevin.

  • Defense 28

    great article on the playmaker kevin. he was the heart and soul of the team, you knew the slant was coming but you couldn’t stop it. he did drew pearson’s # 88 proud on the field.

    • Balou71

      Defense 28 Thanks man!! I enjoyed doing the research for this article!! This man has been through hell and back. He is a strong man!

  • MichaelValentino

    Kevin, this tribute rocks. Great job, man!

    • Balou71

      MichaelValentino Thanks MV!!! It took me a minute to get this finished because I wanted it to be worthy of the person it was about. Thanks to Cas and CJ for helping me polish off the product!

  • MichaelValentino

    A humble and poignant ending to the most moving HOF speech I’ve ever heard.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLyEfzbEr-E

  • waynoootn

    Was Michael Irvin the tallest,fastest or most talented receiver to ever play the game?no but he was the hardest working and most determined receiver to ever play the game.When a ball was thrown his way it was his and no one was going to stop him. Irvin loved the Cowboys and was like a coach on the field. WE need more leadership on the field like him.

  • ChrisG7

    I would take Irvin over Rice any day of the week. His passion, fire, dedication and heart were 2nd to none. awesome article!