Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin joined me for an exclusive interview to discuss his sexual assault case, the death of his friend Cortez Kennedy, team leadership, his relationship with Dez Bryant and his hopes for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season.
Click here for Part I of our Q-and-A with Michael Irvin. Read below for "The Playmaker'' taking us inside his relationship with Dez Bryant, sharing tips on team leadership, and expressing championship hope for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys:
On passing his incredible team-leadership abilities on to the Cowboys of the present day
"I talk with guys. You know, I talk with guys like Dez Bryant, and one of the things Dez and I talked about ... they had this leadership council. (See "The Cowboys Creed'' for more info.) And Dez, who has an ability to communicate with everyone, because he started down low, but has raised himself high. ... He has the ability to communicate with everyone. And other people who may have never come down low, just don’t have the ability to communicate with everybody. So Dez may say 'Man, I have to be the one to talk to all the guys.' ... and I say 'Dez, that’s just. That’s just. What do you mean?
'Some of the guys have never been down in areas like you have been in, and you’ve been in some of these areas that these guys of come from, so they don’t even know how to communicate to other guys. That’s why the put the tag ‘heart-and-soul-of-a-team’ upon you. Because you communicate to all of them. Don’t look at that as that’s a hindering. That’s a responsibility and a blessing. That’s yours, you’ve got to own that.'
"Things like that we do get a chance to talk about. Early on I used to have to tell Dez, 'I love your fight, I love the fight in you and the feistiness in you, but we’ve got to make sure the fight is directed correctly. You can’t be fighting your guys on your team, you’ve got to get the guys on your team to fight with you.”
On the similarities between him and Dez being involved with the team (with me detailing to Irvin how Dez spent a recent day at OTA's embracing nameless rookie receivers and observing defensive line drills):
"What’s the importance of him doing that? It’s like what Jimmy Johnson used to always say to me in Miami, he’d say, 'Hey Michael, I have to do these pre-practice speeches.' I said, 'Coach, we get tired of them.' Then he said, 'Listen, it’s not for you. We’re only going to be as good as that last man on the roster, we’ve got to talk to him all the time.'
"And Dez, no matter what, those (end-of-roster) guys look at him like, 'Oh my God, that’s Dez Bryant!'
"That’s going to do you no good come September on a Sunday afternoon, if you haven’t communicated with those guys, and you try and communicate now on a Sunday afternoon when you’re down by eight or 12 points, (because) they’re going to say, 'Get out of my face, you’re the one making $12-15 million, YOU go win the football game!'
"Unless you make those communications on the practice field and in the locker room during the offseason, you are invalid to make those communications in the fourth quarter. And what Dez is doing is making sure he’s valid to go yell at him in the fourth quarter — 'Give me more, because I was with you during the offseason' — It’s the most important thing, from a leader, that you have to do."
On other Cowboys picking up his leadership baton
"That’s what I love, man, I’m telling you I love, when I’m working and I see Dez with my number on, and he’s walking around, I’m just like 'That’s my son!' I mean, I believe that. Dez, when we first met, joked, he said 'Man, people say I look like you.' I was checking, I was like, 'I don’t think, yeah, I don’t think I went through your hometown any time in those years. What’s your mom’s name again? I don’t think that was the situation.'
"It’s just great to see him happy. And this is what I don’t understand, people always say 'Michael, your number should be retired, man, what are you doing?' And I just say 'Shut up. How ignorant are you? What good would it do to have my number retired and sitting in the rafters? And then the only time you see it, is unfortunately when the Cortez Kennedy thing (death) happens to me, and leave time and go to eternity? Then you turn the camera up and say 'Michael passed today, lets give a moment of silence,' then 'Back to the game!' and that’s it.
"I say, 'Do you not understand? With Dez Bryant making plays on the field, I get my flowers every Sunday. Every time he makes a play they say ‘Boy, he looks like Michael Irvin.' And if he drops a pass they say ‘Well, Michael Irvin wouldn’t have dropped that.'
"I get my flowers every Sunday."
How much fun is it going to be to watch this offense in 2017?
"Well, I’m hoping it’s great fun. Now, we’re all attaching yesterday to today and tomorrow, but yesterday can only be attached to today and tomorrow if they do it. It’s not because we want it to happen here in our heads and here in our hearts. If they do it, and they are walking around saying, 'We have unfinished business. That shouldn’t have happened last year, and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen this year,' then last year will help this year next year. If they’re not doing it, whatever you had last year, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to carry over to this year.
"There has to be connectivity, so the feel from last year can push you forward to this year and into next year, and push you forward into a championship. If they’re not properly using that with people saying, 'Hey man, lets make a difference. Let’s do this and let’s do that,' then it’s not going to happen. That’s why when we go back a couple of years ago after we had that great season, and Dez Bryant wasn’t in camp, and DeMarco Murray (left), you know, everything was scattered, I was saying 'Woah, we are in trouble, people. There is no one there pushing from yesterday to tomorrow. There’s no one there.'
"Now we have guys. Dez is healthy. And Fish, you just gave me a great example that makes me feel good to hear, but you’ve got guys excited now and working together. Now they should be talking about using the fuel from yesterday to push them to tomorrow, and to their championship."