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Wednesday, January 1, 1997
Michael Irvin: from stardom to scandal
By JAIME ARON / Associated Press (Jan. 1, 1997)
IRVING - Michael Irvin has always been the showman. Everything
about him says so: from the sunglasses he wore indoors to his
"Playmaker" license plate to his mink coat-wearing,
Bible-autographing courthouse appearance.
But now the captivating swagger that defined the Dallas Cowboys
receiver has been replaced by serious questions.
Having avoided jail this summer, Irvin goes into 1997 under
a new threat of a prison sentence that would end his Hall of Fame-caliber
career in its prime.
Just five months into a four-year probation for felony cocaine
possession, Irvin was accused Tuesday of holding a gun to a 23-year-old
woman's head while teammate Erik Williams and another man forced
her to have sex.
If Irvin is charged in any wrongdoing, Judge Manny Alvarez
could revoke Irvin's probation and put him behind bars for the
felony drug charge he pleaded no contest to in July.
Alvarez made his stance clear during sentencing July 16: "If
you come back before me ... I will find you guilty of this offense
and you're looking at 20 years in the penitentiary."
By all accounts, Irvin has faithfully begun the 800 hours of
community service Alvarez also assessed.
And, on the field, Irvin has been his usual reliable self.
After returning from a five-game suspension, he caught nearly
1,000 yards' worth of passes as Dallas recovered from a 2-3 start
to win its fifth straight NFC East title.
He played a vital role in last Saturday's 40-15 playoff victory
over the Minnesota Vikings, catching eight passes for 103 yards
as the Cowboys began their hunt for a fourth Super Bowl in five
Yet, Irvin has never fully escaped the shadow of doubt.
Rumors - none of which were published - swirled a few weeks
ago that he was doing drugs again. Irvin's response was an impromptu
news conference in front of his locker Dec. 16.
"I have not done anything in any way, shape or form to
violate my probation or in any way, shape or form to violate the
NFL drug policy," said Irvin, who otherwise has spoken only
Irvin isn't the first high-profile athlete to undermine his
on-field career by off-field woes, but he is among the most successful.
Other notables on rap sheet include boxer Mike Tyson and baseball
players Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
Irvin's scandal - along with other recent Cowboys woes - is
building into one of the biggest in NFL history, rivaling the
1963 banishment of superstars Alex Karras and Paul Hornung for
What makes Irvin's fall so steep is the aura he created for
He burst onto the national scene in college as a hometown hero
at Miami. It was his era of Hurricanes that began the program's
His NFL career took off once Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith joined
him in Dallas. Together, they lifted the Cowboys back to their
glorious past. Along the way, his smiling face and glib mouth
always found the cameras.
Adding to the fascination of Irvin was his background.
The 15th of 17 children, he was extremely close to his father
and took off on a Forrest Gump-like run upon news of his dad's
death. Once he hit the big-time, Irvin became the family's main
man, taking care of relatives' needs as well as lavishing them
Irvin brought up the memory of his father, Walter, during a
tearful news conference the day after his drug trial ended. He
spoke about a conversation with his brother where he mentioned
having disgraced the family name.
"I'm not the man my father was," said Irvin, his
barely audible voice cracking.
Less savory memories include a burst of profanity on national
television following the NFC championship game, the motel room
drug bust in the wee hours of his 30th birthday that led to the
trial, and the arrest of a Dallas police officer whose girlfriend
Irvin allegedly had threatened not to testify against him.
Other images include a lawsuit by Toyota claiming Irvin violated
an endorsement deal (part of the roughly $1 million in endorsements
he's lost) and the raunchy stories told by topless dancer Rachelle
Smith, the arrested cop's girlfriend who spent months partying
with Irvin and another topless dancer.
As he walked out of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters
Tuesday, attorney Royce West in tow, Irvin was adamant about his
innocence and blamed the media for the uproar.
"I don't even know what anybody is talking about,"
Irvin said. "I have not done anything in any way, shape or
form to violate my probation. I'm tired of it."
Added West: "We're getting sick and tired of every time
something comes up, Michael Irvin's name is the first to appear
at the top of list. ... I wish the media would allow Michael to
go ahead and take care of his business on probation and do what
he wants to do - play football."
Unless something more conclusive on the investigation develops
by Sunday, expect No. 88 to be lined up against the Carolina Panthers
in the second round of the playoffs.
All content copyright 1996,
AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News
and Reporter OnLine