The Dallas Hurricane (Part IV)

Michael Irvin would play his final game in a Hurricane uniform in the 1988 Orange Bowl Classic against the top rated Oklahoma Sooners for the national championship. Irvin, would grab a 23-yard touchdown pass from Steve Walsh, to help lead the 'Canes to a 20-14 win and their second National Title. He would bypass his senior year to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Four months later he would be chosen by the Dallas Cowboys as the eleventh player selected overall.

A throng of family and friends packed his boyhood home in Ft. Lauderdale as he got the call.

"DALLAS COWBOYS, SUPER BOWLS BOUND NEXT YEAR!!! SUPER BOWL BOUND!!!" hollered Irvin, as he got high-fives and hugs from well wishers.

But it was wishful thinking. Irvin was not going to the dynastic Cowboys of the past, but a badly declining franchise in the last days under the direction of Tom Landry and Tex Schramm.

For Irvin, a fierce competitor, who lost only 3 games in three seasons at Miami, the culture of losing and antipathy was eye opening. And it was evident after his first game in Pittsburgh, a heartbreaking 24-21 loss, in which Irvin scored his first professional touchdown.

"You know what hurt me? When I got here I didn't mind the losing because I'd like to think I have enough fortitude and ability and I knew how to lead and I could lead us out of the losing, given some good people to play around me," said Irvin, of going from Miami to Dallas. But Irvin soon found that his attitude was more the exception than the norm.

"What bothered me were some of the players that were here at that time. I remember crying, literally crying after we lost that game, we should've won that game and it was new to me to lose," recalled Irvin, of his first game in a Cowboy uniform. "And I had a pretty good game and it was a close game. When I was crying, I remember a couple of guys walking past me and saying, 'Hey man, don't take it so seriously, it's OK dawg, this is different, collect your check and go home.'

"That hurt more than anything. Because you see, now, this is what I'm working with? I see what I got, but this is what I'm working with? I got nothing, now, I can deal with nothing- if nothing wants to be something. But nothing that accepts nothing? You really got nothing."

The '88 Cowboys would stagger to a 3-13 mark but help would soon be on the way. Veterans like Randy White and Ed 'Too Tall' Jones would ride off into the sunset, and an Arkansas businessman by the name of Jerry Jones would purchase 'America's Team'. His first move was hiring his former college teammate from the University of Arkansas to take over the reins from Landry. It was someone very familiar to Irvin.

Jimmy Johnson.

And quickly, the losing mentality that had been allowed to fester at Valley Ranch would be jettisoned. A new sheriff was in town and waiting for him was his trusty deputy.

"And that's what was so great when I got that phone call from Jimmy and I heard that he was possibly being considered as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It was like heaven coming to earth," Irvin said of the tumultuous time. The 'JJ' boys were made into pariah's for hastening the departure of the legendary Landry, who had been Dallas' only head coach up until that time.

Johnson would draft more reinforcements. The Cowboys would select Troy Aikman out of UCLA as the top pick in the 1989 draft to throw to Irvin. A year later, Emmitt Smith would slide down the board far enough for the 'Boys to nab him with the twentieth pick. By 1991, the Cowboys would be a playoff team and the places were in place for a dynasty. And there were familiar faces alongside Irvin, most of Johnson's coaching staff had come with him from Miami and fellow Hurricanes Darrin Smith, Kevin Williams, Alfredo Roberts, Jimmie Jones and Russell Maryland, would soon be wearing the distinct Cowboy star on their helmets. For Irvin it was a flashback to his college days in Coral Gables.

"It was because I knew I was getting a coach, that first of all, had counted on me in some situations and I had come through," said Irvin, of his new surroundings. "So he has a respect for my ability to play the game and I was getting a guy that wasn't going to put up with this losing. None of that losing attitude, none of his bull about,' accept this' none of that. I knew he wouldn't put up with it. It's not in his makeup.

"Jimmy was going to be successful no matter what he does and I knew he was that type of coach. So from that perspective it was one of the greatest things that ever happened."

The Cowboys would soon reclaim their past glory, winning Super Bowls after the 1992 and 1993 seasons with Johnson as their coach. But in a stunning development, Johnson would shockingly 'resign' soon after their second Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in the early months of 1994. Johnson had begun to clash so often with Jones that it led to irreconcilable differences and a divorce of the NFL's most prolific duo.

A 'bootleggers boy' was tabbed to replace Johnson and the Cowboys would win another Lombardi Trophy in 1995 with Barry Switzer on the sidelines. Three championships in four seasons, a monumental achievement under any standard. But did the Cowboys get the full mileage out of their dynasty?

"Oh, God, no!" says Irvin, emphatically. "You hear people talk about it was time for him to leave and all that. I'm not a believer in that. I was upset because I understand we all have egos. I was very, very disappointed in Jerry and Jimmy, for that matter, for allowing, whatever they allowed to mess up what we all had worked so hard for. And we all had a sense of that.

"We had just come together, won two Super Bowls in a row, if the car is not broken, why are you driving it into the shop?" said Irvin, with the disgust and disbelief still in his voice. "Why are we doing this? We have a Mazzarrati, we had everything. Let's just keep doing THIS right now.

"I say this, we should have had at least four in a row, if not five."

Irvin, alongside Aikman and Smith, would form the nucleus of the famed Dallas 'Triplets' that fueled a high powered Dallas offense. After fighting back from a severe injury in 1989, Irvin beginning in 1991, had a run of All-Pro seasons that lasted throughout the decade. His career would come to a sudden and nearly tragic end on the hard turf of Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium in 1999. After catching a short pass from Aikman, his head would crash hard to the on the unforgiving playing surface. Irvin would be carted off the field with no feelings in his limbs. He would escape paralysis but Irvin would never play football again.

It was the end of a career in which he grabbed 750 passes for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns. Take away a guy by the name of Jerry Rice, and Irvin makes a strong argument for being the best receiver of his generation. So, is it enough to land him in Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame?

"I don't know, it's my year," says Irvin, when asked that question. "I read something the other day where they were talking about some of the guys and how hard it would be for them to get in now because of the kind of guys that are coming up are what you call, almost, 'sure fire'. They had me in there.

"I don't know if that's the reality on me being a 'sure fire' Hall-of-Famer. I will say this, I do believe, had I played, I had I not gotten hurt- people seem to forget I missed about a year with a knee injury in the beginning of my career- so I had not missed that time. I would be second to no one but Jerry Rice in receptions. Tim Brown is what, third, now? And I was a couple of hundred catches ahead of Tim at one point when I left the game."

But Irvin says he only takes a backseat to one guy, someone he dubbed, 'Jesus in cleats'.

"The thing is, you say Cris Carter- and I love Cris Carter- or Sterling Sharpe, I only give homage to Jerry Rice," Irvin, says. "Because he'll have more receptions but he also has the equal amount of Super Bowls, so I can't beat him. Those other guys have more receptions but they didn't win championships and I'd like to think that that's the thing that gives us the heads up on everything, the Super Bowls.

"While they were playing in the fourth quarters, I was on the bench sometimes."

(In Part V, Irvin talks of rebuilding his image and career as a broadcaster in the aftermath of his sudden retirement)

CowboysHQ Top Stories