Aikman, Irvin's Tour of Honors

This year's Cowboys "Tour of Honors'' began awkwardly, on Monday, Sept. 19, when team owner Jerry Jones greased their tracks toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame by inducting Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin into his team's Ring of Honor.

The master of ceremonies for the halftime show, Jones voiced his own sort of Pretzel Logic by announcing, "First, in alphabetical order, let's hear from Michael Irvin!''

We are days away from learning whether there is really such a thing as a Cowboys' Hall-of-Fame lock. (Listen to Sports Illustrated's sadly misguided Rick Reilly, and not even Aikman qualifies as such.) We are days away from learning whether there is really such a thing as a Cowboys' Hall-of-Fame bias. (Watch Irvin squirm as he, for the second straight year, serves as a lightning rod for the jealousy of America's Team.) We are days away from learning whether there was really such a thing as a Tom Landry-era dynasty. (If HOF finalist Rayfield Wright was an elite star of his time, and Dallas was an elite team in that era, how are only five Cowboys players in the Hall?)

Wright, the classy old offensive lineman, is accustomed to being low-profile. But Aikman and Irvin are among the most headline-grabbing athletes of their time, maybe of all-time. Still, let's make a gentleman's bet: I'll wager that for all you know about Aikman and Irvin, I can spin a tale about each man that you haven't heard before, tales that lend insight into what made them so great.

A story about Aikman's legendary "vision'' -- when he couldn't even see. A story about Irvin's legendary "partying'' -- except this time, he didn't even attend his own shindig.

First, my Aikman story:

Everyone knew that Aikman was somehow vulnerable to concussions; his hang-in-the-pocket gutsiness positively begged for him to lose some brain cells. In the 1993 NFC Championship Game, he got kneed in the earhole, and here came concussion No. 10. The Cowboys shipped him to the hospital when they asked him if he knew where he was, what he was doing, and he answered that he was playing "Henryetta Hens.''

That was his high school team. Henryetta (Okla.) High. Yeah, the Hens.

The next day, he begged his way out of the hospital and made his way to Atlanta. And before the January 30, 1994 Super Bowl kickoff against the Bills, he quietly informed the team's medical staff that he was woozy, that he had a severe headache. Aikman started neverthless, but as you might recall, there were long stints when he wasn't asked to throw; the Cowboys' decision to openthe second half by handing the ball to Emmitt on seven consecutive plays was as much headache-driven as it was gameplan-driven.

Did Troy play that game with a concussion? Not exactly.

"I played with my right contact in my left eye and my left in my right," Aikman told me the next day. "I just put 'em in the wrong eyes. But please don't write that. It's too embarrassing." I hope it's OK if I write it now.

And now, my Irvin story:

Yes, Michael loved the nightlife. I know it now. I knew it then.

And what a party it was going to be! Sept. 3, 1992, and Jerry and Irvin -- after a long and highly-publicized contract spat -- had just agreed to a new contract. The deal was worth $1.25 million a year. On purpose, the contract was signed with a specially-designed pen that was worth $125 pen.

And nearing midnight, off we went to celebrate, down the street from the Valley Ranch facility to a sports bar called Cowboys Sports Café. Yes, that's the saloon that was later the target of Jones' players ban. But on this night, Jones and Irvin were a Pied Piper Pair, leading a handful of us into the bar. Irvin ordered up bottles of Dom Perignon champagne. It was an all-you-can-drink buffet.

"And it's on me,'' Irvin said. And then he left his own party.

Assuming that there must be an even better celebration going on elsewhere, I followed Irvin. Up the street he drove, following a familiar path. Why was he going back to the Valley Ranch facility?

"Come on in with me,'' Irvin said, spotting me pulling into the Cowboys parking lot behind him.

"Where are we going?'' I asked.

"To the weight room,'' Irvin replied. "I've got to start earning that money.''

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