From Golden Heights to Coral Gables

In part one of our series with the great Michael Irvin he talks about growing up in a lifestyle certainly different than he is accustomed to today. Irvin speaks frankly about his time as a child all the way until he stepped foot on campus at the University of Miami. His life changed dramatically in the fall of 1983 as he discussed the passing of his father and the burden he took on for his family.

After transferring from Piper High to St. Thomas Aquinas High in 1982, Michael Jerome Irvin would be forced to sit out of athletic competition in his junior year.

A young Irvin would have the responsibility of driving his father, Walter, who was diagnosed with cancer, to and from the hospital. Already close, Irvin and his father would have long discussions regarding his future. It was at this time that that the seed was planted for Irvin to attend the University of Miami.

"My father was a minister and I had spent some real important times with my father in his days going on to being with his maker," recalled Irvin. "And in those times I was driving him back and forth in high school to the doctors and I remember we would sit and talk. He would tell me about a man's responsibility and how my responsibility would become my mother and how I should never leave too far away from my mother.

"So with me losing him and talking to me in those days leading up to his passing, that helped me make my decision. When it came time, it was like, "I can't go too far, I can't leave my mother.'"

Irvin was one of 17 children in a family led by Walter and Pearl Irvin.

They lived in a poor, run down section of Ft. Lauderdale called 'the Golden Heights'. Walter, who was a roofer by trade, worked endless hours in the unwavering heat of Florida to provide for his family. They lived modestly to say the least, Christmas gifts were rare, 'hand me down' clothing and shoes were always in fashion and a solitary fan for the children was fought for in the middle of hot summer nights by the brothers and sisters.

When Walter passed in the fall of 1983, the responsibility of providing for the family, fell on Michael.

"I've asked that question a few times, 'OK, Lord, why me? Why does this fall on me? All those brothers and sisters, why does the responsibility to take care of everybody fall on me?'" he recalls, with a laugh. "And you know what? I see it as a blessing. My mom would always tell me, even when I was just in elementary school, 'God, has a plan for you. He has a plan for you.' She firmly believed it.

"I often wonder which is it? Was it really her predicting the future or did she brainwash me and make the future happen like she wanted it to?" he continued, with more laughs. "That's my mother, she's a devout Christian and she always told me about how God will show me He has a plan for you and you're going to do these certain things.

"All these things that have come to pass, my mom always told me I would be doing."

While love may have been in abundance in the Irvin's small brick house on 27th Avenue, food, unfortunately, was not. And Michael subsisted on a steady diet of corn flakes with tap water, ketchup and mayonnaise sandwiches. At school he would be on the free lunch program.

But after a huge senior year at St. Thomas in 1983 in which he caught 59 passes for 987 yards and 12 touchdowns, he would sign a letter of intent with the nearby University of Miami.

And what was awaiting him at Coral Gables were some luxuries that weren't available to him at home: his own bed, air conditioning and most importantly, a training table that seemed to have all the food in the world on a daily basis. And those who dare cut in line would feel the wrath of Irvin. A senior offensive lineman would feel his fists early on for his breach of etiquette.

Hey, this guy had been fighting for food his whole life.

"I got in a fight about the first day and it all started at that training table," confirmed Irvin. "I've never seen a training table like that, we got into a lil' scrape right there, I was just a rookie too. You never seen food like that. It was the most incredible thing."

And the campus soon became his home.

"As a matter of fact," he explains, "once I went to the University of Miami, I never went back home. Why go back home? I stayed there every summer, went to summer school and everything. I'd go home and visit but there was no need for me. It was always about getting my degree, 'I gotta get my degree, I got to get out of school as soon as possible so I can do what I promised my dad.' Which was to take care of my mother."

Irvin would graduate in four years with a degree in business management. But it was on the football field where Irvin would leave his most indelible mark.

(Part II- Michael soon forms a close bond with his new coach and they proceed to bring a new brand of football to the nation.)

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