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Irvin, Michael

Michael Irvin


American football player

During his twelve-year career as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, Michael Irvin was one of the National Football League's (NFL) most flamboyant players. Blessed with lightening speed and soft hands, he helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. Flashy both on and off the field, Irvin, often weighed down with diamonds and gold, led a free-for-all life of drugs and sex that resulted in his arrest on cocaine possession in 1996. His is a see-saw story of rising fame, falling from grace, and searching for redemption.

Always Hungry

Michael Irvin was born on March 5, 1966, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Walter and Pearl Irvin. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children. His father brought two children from a previous marriage and his mother had six; together they added nine more. Irvin's house on 27th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale only had two bedrooms until his father converted the porch and the garage into extra living space. Still, Irvin never had his own bed until he went to college. Irvin's father was a hardworking roofer who worked long hours six days a week. Irvin's mother took care of the house full of children.

Irvin's family was poor, and he was often without shoes that fit, but his father refused to allow his children to complain. Irvin's main problem as a growing boy was getting enough to eat. With little food in the house, Irvin would scheme to fill his rumbling stomach. He would often wait until everyone went to sleep and then sneak into the kitchen to polish off a whole box of cereal, usually softened with tap water as milk was often not to be found in the refrigerator. When there was nothing else, he would eat mayonnaise or ketchup sandwiches.

Christmases often passed with no presents, and Irvin dreamed of an easier life. By the time he was a teenager, he was determined to make things better for both himself and his family. He began hanging out with a rough crowd and, by his own admission, made some poor choices. After he was suspended at the end of his sophomore year at Piper High School, his father decided his son needed a more positive environment and in 1982 enrolled

him at St. Thomas Aquinas, a private Catholic school. Piper High, which didn't want to lose the school's star athlete, protested the transfer. A court ruling determined that Irvin could attend St. Thomas but would be required to sit out of athletics his junior year because Piper had refused to sign a waiver allowing him to participate.

The Playmaker

Irvin lettered in football and basketball at St. Thomas. His football team went undefeated and won the state championship when he was a senior. However, his senior year was marred by the death of his beloved father from cancer. Staying close to home, Irvin attended the University of Miami, playing for the Hurricanes under head coach Jimmy Johnson. As Irvin began receiving attention for his outstanding athletic abilities, he also began being noticed for his mouth and his ego. But Johnson and the Miami coaching staff gave Irvin a wide berth, knowing his background and correctly assuming that his ability and enthusiasm could lead the team to a national championship.

During his three years as a starting receiver for the University of Miami, Irvin, who had become known by the nickname "Playmaker," set Miami records for most career catches (143), receiving yards (2423), and touchdown receptions (26). He was selected as the eleventh overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had been struggling, finishing the previous season just 3-13. Despite Irvin's reputation as an egomaniacal trash talker who was potentially trouble off the field, Dallas was desperate for an influx of fresh talent.

As a rookie Irvin became the team's starting wide receiver. He used his $1.8 million contract to buy his mother a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool in Fort Lauderdale and supplied her with the first credit card she had ever carried. In his second year, Irvin was reunited with his college coach when the Cowboys' new owner, Jerry Jones, fired long-time coach Tom Landry and hired Jimmy Johnson. Irvin, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the sixth game of the 1989 season, missed the remainder of the season.

Returning to play in the fifth game of the 1990 season, Irvin led the team in yards-per-carry, but the Cowboys still finished with a losing record of 7-9. The following year the team started off 6-5 before winning the last five games of the season and earning a spot in the playoffs. The 1991 season proved to be Irvin's break-out year. In his fourth season in the league he caught ninety-three passes for 1,523 yards, compared to a combined total of seventy-eight receptions for 1,445 yards during his first three seasons. As the leading receiver in the nation in 1991, Irvin was invited to his first Pro Bowl and selected as the game's most valuable player. Typical of Irvin's demeanor and emotion, he ranted on the sidelines of the Pro Bowl, which is commonly a laidback affair, because he felt he should be getting more receptions. His Pro Bowl teammates shrugged their shoulders, and Irvin ended up with eight receptions for 125 yards.

The Cowboys' powerful offense, led by Irvin, quarterback Troy Aikman , and running back Emmitt Smith , rolled through the next two seasons, winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Irvin had seventy-eight receptions for 1,396 yards in 1992 and eighty-eight receptions for 1,330 yards in 1993. He thrilled Cowboy fans in the 1994 Super Bowl XXVII by making two touchdowns on receptions in the span of just fifteen seconds, leading the Cowboys to a 52-17 romp of the Buffalo Bills. Following the team's second storybook season, owner Jerry Jones shocked the sports world by announcing the firing of Johnson. Irvin, who was personally close to his coach, was livid and demanded to be traded. Yet in the end, he decided to remain committed to his teammates and stay in Dallas.

Hopes for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl ring following the 1994 season were dashed when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cowboys, 38-28, in the National Football Conference championship. Irvin had outdone himself in the game, catching twelve passes for 192 yards, setting new championship game records, but the devastated wide receiver was crying on the sidelines at the end of the game. Despite his legendary showboating, winning, not personal glory, was his main objective.

Irvin posted the best statistics of his career in 1995, catching 111 passes for 1,603 yards and ten touchdowns. His eight straight 100-yard games and eleven 100-yard games overall tied the NFL records. Irvin's numbers take on added significance considering many teams tried to stop him, or at least slow him down, with double coverage. Although it wasn't a perfect season for the Cowboys, the team's 12-4 record carried them easily into the playoffs, where they won a record third Super Bowl in four years by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17.

Falls from Grace

At the top of his game in 1995, Irvin's world came crashing down in 1996. On March 3, 1996, two days before his thirtieth birthday, Irvin was arrested in a room at a Residence Inn in Irving, Texas, where cocaine and marijuana were found. Known for his heavy indulgence, Irvin was in the company of teammate Alfredo Roberts and two young women whose professions were noted as topless "models." Police found close to three ounces of marijuana and nearly four ounces of cocaine on two dinner plates, along with rolling papers, razors, other drug paraphernalia and sex toys. According to Sports Illustrated, when the police officers pulled out the handcuffs, Irvin rebuffed them saying, "Hey, can I tell you who I am?"


1966 Born March 5 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1983-84 Star football and basketball player for Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale
1984-88 Star football player for the University of Miami
1988 Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as the eleventh pick overall of the National Football League (NFL) draft
1989 Jerry Jones buys Cowboys, drafts quarterback Troy Aikman; finishes season with only one win
1993-94 Wins back-to-back Super Bowl titles
1995 Loses Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers
1996 Wins third Super Bowl ring; arrested and charged with possession of cocaine; falsely accused of rape
1998 Cuts a teammate with a pair of scissors during a scuffle
1999 Announces retirement
2000 Arrested for possession of marijuana; charges later dropped
2001 Experiences religious conversion
2002 Hired by Fox Sports Net as an analyst on "NFL This Morning"

Awards and Accomplishments

1991 Received National Football League (NFL) Alumni award as Wide Receiver of the Year
1991-95 Named to the NFL Pro Bowl
1993-94, 1996 Wins Super Bowl as member of the Dallas Cowboys

From that moment Irvin's life became a media circus, with Irvin himself adding fuel to the fire by showing up to court in a full-length black mink coat and dark sunglasses. The whole ordeal became even more unbelievable when a Dallas police officer was arrested for conspiring to murder Irvin. The officer's common law wife was called before the Grand Jury to testify because her name had appeared in the motel's log along with Irvin's on numerous occasions. Another topless model, the woman testified at length about Irvin's drug and sex habits. Irvin found out about the testimony and allegedly threatened the woman. The police officer in turn reportedly paid $3,000 down on $30,000 to put a hit on Irvin.

Irvin went to trial on drug-related charges, but before the decision was turned over to the jury, he agreed to a plea bargain, pleading guilty to cocaine possession, a second-degree felony, that cost him $10,000 and 800 hours of community service. On July 17, 1996, the day the trial ended, Irvin held a news conference and was, for the first time, contrite. His wife was at his side although she had never appeared with him in court, and Irvin publicly apologized to his family, fans, teammates, and the Dallas organization. Suspended for the first five games of the 1996 season, Irvin spent time in Florida trying to make amends with his family.

Irvin continued to make periodic headlines. In December of 1996 he and a teammate were falsely accused of rape, and in 1998 he was involved in a bizarre incident during training camp when he allegedly inflicted a two-inch cut in the neck of Dallas guard Everett McIver while some team members were getting haircuts. Whether it was assault or "horseplay," McIver did not press charges, and rumors swirled that Jones brokered a six-figure settlement with McIver to drop the matter.


Irvin suffered a serious neck injury early in the 1999 season and was advised by doctors that returning to the field could be risky. After playing just four games in 1999, Irvin announced his retirement. Over the course of his twelve-year career in a Dallas Cowboys' uniform, Irvin was the city's biggest hero and its biggest villain. When asked whether he thinks he will make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, according the Knight Ridder Newspapers, Irvin reflected, "I don't know. The things I experienced off the field could be held against me. But the things I accomplished on the field cannot be taken away. Say whatever, but when you fix your mouth to talk about me as a football player, you will say, 'He played football.'"

Career Statistics

DAL: Dallas Cowboys
1988 DAL 14 32 654 20.4 5
1989 DAL 6 26 378 14.5 2
1990 DAL 12 20 413 20.7 5
1991 DAL 16 93 1523 16.4 8
1992 DAL 16 78 1396 17.9 7
1993 DAL 16 88 1330 15.1 7
1994 DAL 16 79 1241 15.7 6
1995 DAL 16 111 1603 14.4 10
1996 DAL 11 64 962 15.0 2
1997 DAL 16 75 1180 15.7 9
1998 DAL 16 74 1057 14.3 1
1999 DAL 4 10 167 16.7 3
TOTAL 159 750 11904 15.9 65

Where Is He Now?

Following retirement, Irvin was working on a deal with Fox Sports as a pre-game analyst; however, in August of 2000, he was found with a woman in a North Dallas apartment raided by police, who discovered marijuana. Although Irvin insisted that he hadn't touched drugs since 1996, Fox Sports terminated the talks. Then in early 2001, with his wife by his side, Irvin went to a church and underwent a religious conversion experience. Taking to Jesus with the same compulsive enthusiasm that he took to the football field, Irvin has professed to be a new man, spending a good deal of his time in his church and in prayer.

Although Irvin continues to have detractors who doubt his sincerity, his spiritual rebirth has redeemed his image sufficiently for Fox Sports to find him a spot in front of the camera. After appearing as a regular panelist on Fox Sports' "Best Damn Sports Show," in June 2002 Irvin was given a permanent spot on the network's studio show, "The NFL Show."


Address: Fox Sports, PO Box 900, Beverly Hills, CA 90213.



Newsmakers, Issue 3. Detroit: Gale Group, 1996.

Sports Stars 1-4. Detroit: UXL, 1994-98.

Who's Who Among African Americans, 14th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.


Bamberger, Michael. "Dropping the Ball." Sports Illustrated (April 1, 1996): 36-37.

"Big D, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?" Esquire (September 1997): 66-71.

Dent, Jim. "Air Traffic Controller." Sporting News (September 1, 1997): 34.

Galloway, Randy. "Television Show Captures Irvin's Glory, Agony." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (August 31, 2002).

Hill, Clarence E., Jr. "The Transformation Isn't Complete, but Michael Irvin has Gone from Partying Hard to Praying Hard." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (November 30, 2001).

Hoffer, Richard. "The Party's Over." Sports Illustrated (July 8, 1996): 30.

Hollandsworth, Skip. "Michael Irvin." Texas Monthly (September 1996): 110-113.

Horn, Barry. "Irvin Back in Front of Camera." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (June 3, 2002).

Horn, Barry. "Irvin's Exposure Increasing." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 1, 2002).

Jenkins, Sally. "The Mouth That Roars." Sports Illustrated (October 25, 1993): 72.

Leland, John, and Ginny Carroll. "The Cop, the Cowboy, and the Topless Dancer." Newsweek (July 8, 1996): 61.

"Michael Scissorhands?" Sports Illustrated (August 17, 1998): 18-19.

Wagner, William. "A Warrior Departs." Football Digest (October 2000): 6.


"Michael Irvin." National Football League. (December 28, 2002)

Sketch by Kari Bethel

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Irvin, Michael

Michael Irvin


Professional football player, commentator

Wide receiver Michael Irvin was one of the most brilliantly talented and yet one of the most troubled of the star players of the 1990s in the National Football League (NFL). Just as he would make seemingly impossible catches of the long balls thrown to him by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, he managed against the odds to extricate himself from increasingly serious legal problems. Irvin was a key contributor to the Cowboys' powerhouse offense and their impressive record of three Super Bowl victories during his 12 seasons of play. His exploits on the field were recognized when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Irvin's drive to excel, and perhaps his problems too, were rooted in a childhood of poverty. He was born on March 5, 1966, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Walter and Pearl Irvin. Walter Irvin was a roofer and part-time Primitive Baptist preacher with an income insufficient to support the 17 children the couple raised—they came to their marriage with eight children between them already, and they added nine more of their own, of whom Michael was the seventh. The family could rarely afford milk, and Irvin often ate breakfast cereal topped with tap water—a habit he retained even as a professional football multimillionaire. Elbowed aside from food by his older siblings, he sometimes made a meal of ketchup or mayonnaise between two slices of bread.

Competing with his siblings, Irvin learned that he had to try to stand out from the crowd: sports offered him the chance. As a junior high school standout, he played football and basketball and ran track. He seemed set for stardom at Fort Lauderdale's Piper High School but became part of a clique with disciplinary problems and was suspended at the end of his sophomore year. Alarmed, his father transferred him to a Catholic high school, St. Thomas Aquinas. He missed a year of football because his former school wouldn't grant waivers allowing him to play, but he benefited from the school's one-on-one attention to students. He later endowed a scholarship there. During his senior year Irvin suffered the loss of his father to cancer but emerged as an All-State player, determined to do the work he had to do in order to make football a career.

He enrolled at the University of Miami and came under the supervision of his mentor, head coach Jimmy Johnson. The team's confrontational style suited Irvin perfectly, and he racked up three school records in his first three seasons as a starter: catches (143), receiving yards (2,423) and touchdown receptions (26). A taste of the future Irvin—over the line yet talented enough to get away with it—came in a game against Miami's archrival Florida State on the way to Miami's 1987 national championship. With Miami trailing 19-3, Esquire magazine reported, Irvin "grabbed a set of headphones on the sideline and began screaming profanely at assistant coaches to get him the ball." The result was a pair of long throws that Irvin caught for touchdowns that brought Miami a nationally hailed, comeback win. Irvin graduated from Miami in 1988 with a degree in business management.

In the 1988 NFL draft Irvin was the Dallas Cowboys' first pick. Word of his flamboyant style had gotten around, but the Cowboys, with a 3-13 record the previous year, were desperate. Irvin quickly lived up to his reputation for both talent and trash talk. "[Traditionalist coach Tom] Landry may have clenched his teeth and rolled his eyes, but he never said a word," Cowboy player Mike Renfro told Esquire. "The guy was catching balls with his fingernails. He definitely had the stuff." Signed to a $1.8 million contract, Irvin bought his brother a four-bedroom Fort Lauderdale house, with swimming pool.

It took Irvin several years in Dallas to come into his own. He was sidelined in his second season by an anterior cruciate ligament injury, after which he rebuilt strength in his knee with 30-mile bike rides that terminated at the Cowboys' practice facility. After returning to the field midway through the 1990 season, he led the Cowboys' receivers in yards per catch that year. His breakthrough year was 1991. By that time, Irvin had developed a level of comfort with the Cowboys: Jimmy Johnson, his coach at Miami, now headed the Cowboys, and Irvin had a good working relationship with Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman. Irvin was pro football's leading receiver in 1991, collecting 93 passes for 1,523 yards, and he appeared in the Pro Bowl.

From then on, Irvin became a key part of a legendary era of Dallas Cowboys' pro football dominance. With 78 receptions in 1992 and 88 in 1993, for 1,396 and 1,330 yards respectively, he helped propel the Cowboys to consecutive Super Bowl victories. Although he reacted angrily to Johnson's firing after the 1993 season and demanded to be traded, he finally agreed to stay in Dallas, and in 1995 he posted career highs of 111 pass receptions and 1,603 yards gained en route to a third Cowboys Super Bowl win. With eight consecutive games, and 11 overall, in which he gained more than 100 yards, he tied a pair of NFL records. In a football-crazy city he was a popular star, ready to assume the position of role model for young people.

Everything came crashing down the following spring as Irvin and teammate Alfredo Roberts were arrested in a room at a Dallas-area Residence Inn; the players were sharing the room with a pair of topless models, and cocaine and drug paraphernalia were found at the scene. After the arrest, Irvin appeared in a courtroom wearing a full-length black mink coat. Sensational headlines exploded as things went from bad to worse; Irvin allegedly threatened another model who testified against him, and her common-law husband, a Dallas police officer, was charged with taking out a contract to have Irvin killed. Finally a contrite Irvin pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, paying a fine of $10,000 and performing 800 hours of community service.

Suspended for the first five games of the 1996 season, Irvin bounced back with strong years in 1997 and 1998, topping 1,000 yards in pass receptions each season. In the fifth game of the 1999 season, however, he was hit hard on a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Tim Hauck and landed head first on the turf. Irvin suffered a cervical spinal cord injury that was not life-threatening but ended his career. His lifetime 750 pass receptions for 11,904 yards gained, and his 47 games with more than 100 yards gained in pass receptions all placed him among the top ten players in NFL history in their respective categories. He appeared five times in the NFL's season-ending Pro Bowl all-star game, in which he often displayed a much more competitive attitude than did his fellow players.

At a Glance …

Born Michael Jerome Irvin March 5, 1966, in Fort Lauderdale, FL; son of Walter (a roofer and Primitive Baptist minister) and Pearl Irvin; married Sandy; children: Chelsea, Michael, Elijah, Myesha (from previous relationship). Education: Miami University, Miami, FL, BA, business management, 1988.

Career: Dallas Cowboys, professional football player, 1988-99; Best Damn Sports Show, The NFL Show, Fox Sports Network, on-air personality, 2000(?)-03; Sunday NFL Countdown, ESPN television, on-air personality, 2003-07; TMI Group real estate (subsidiary of Tetra Companies), co-owner, 2007-.

Awards: Five-time Pro Bowl team member; Dallas Cowboys' Ring of Honor, inducted 2005; Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, OH, 2007.

Addresses: Office—Fox Sports, PO Box 900, Beverly Hills, CA 90213.

Irvin's legal problems did not end with his 1996 cocaine plea. A rape accusation later that year, al- though false and eventually recanted, damaged his image, and in a bizarre 1998 incident he inflicted a two-inch cut on the neck of teammate Everett McIver while players were getting haircuts at the Cowboys' training camp. The incident was chalked up to horseplay, but Sports Illustrated cited local journalistic reports describing a six-figure settlement that dissuaded McIver from filing assault charges. In 2000 police found marijuana in a Dallas apartment that Irvin was sharing with a woman. The following year he professed a religious conversion, but in 2005 he was arrested again after a traffic stop in Plano, Texas, and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. He maintained that the materials belonged to an acquaintance.

Irvin's reputation took a hit from each of these incidents, but only the cocaine bust led to serious legal consequences. He was supported by his wife, Sandy (with whom he lived in suburban Carrollton with four children, one of them from a previous relationship), and he bounced back professionally from each low point. After retiring from play, he remained involved with football as a broadcaster on the Best Damn Sports Show on the Fox Sports cable network and on his own Michael Irvin Show. In 2002 he joined Fox's The NFL Show, and the following year he added the post of commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown to his resume, remaining with the network until 2007. Outside of football, he became a partner in the Tetra Companies' TMI Group real estate investment firm. Further recognition of Irvin's legendary skills, as well as rehabilitation of his image, came with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2007. His acceptance speech was an emotional one in which, according to ESPN, he quoted scripture: "You know the Bible speaks of a healing place. 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."



Newsmakers, issue 3, Gale, 1996.

Notable Sports Figures, 4 vols., Gale, 2004.

Sports Stars, series 2, U*X*L, 1996.


Commercial Property News, May 21, 2007.

Esquire, September 1997, p. 66.

Sport, July 1995, p. 53.

Sports Illustrated, August 17, 1998, p. 17; November 3, 2003, p. 32.


"Irvin, Michael J.," Hickok Sports, (November 6, 2007).

"Michael Irvin," Pro Football Hall of Fame, (November 6, 2007).

"Michael Irvin: Profile," ESPN, (November 6, 2007).

"Michael Irvin: 2007 Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech," ESPN, (November 6, 1007).

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