Catching Up with The Playmaker

ADDISON, Texas -- Michael Irvin and I bumped into each other in a new hot-spot eatery in Addison, Texas, one of those sports bars that is really such a non-sports bar that nobody in the place even recognized one of the greatest and most noticeable Dallas Cowboys of all time.

A quick Q-and-A session with the Cowboy-turned-ESPN analyst, answers coming between bites of spinach dip and tortilla chips and sips of tea (for Michael; he was buying, so I was drinking the hard stuff):

TRR: Because Terrell Owens seems to put himself in the spotlight every day -- whether he's a story or not -- let's start there. You're interview with Owens regarding the distrust he feels in the locker room, the accusations of there being a "snitch.'' ... And then the spitting thing. ... You know T.O. is quite possibly mentally ill, right?
IRVIN: "I told you a long time ago that he had trust issues. You wrote that (for a long time ago, didn't you? T.O. has trust issues. Does he have extremely high highs and extremely low lows? Yes. But so Ups and downs? I have ups and downs. I just knew how to hide them, and knew how to present myself in public. Terrell, he just doesn't know how to present himself in the most positive light sometimes. ... On the spitting incident, as I said on the air, there is not an excuse for, not an explanation for it.''

TRR: Seriously, you don't think a psychiatrist would wonder whether Owens is, for instance, Bipolar?
IRVIN: "No Fish, he's not Bipolar. I'll tell you what he is: He's exceptional. Exceptional people -- people who are the very best at what they do -- they come across as different. Because they are different! They're exceptional!''

TRR: Are you as troubled by his dropped passes as some of the rest of us are?
IRVIN: "I'm a little troubled by the drops. I'm a little troubled by his explanations for them. Fact is, along with, who, Jeremy Stevens (the Seattle tight end), T.O. has as many drops of catchable balls as anybody. That's just a fact.''

TRR: I've said to you before that I think you should campaign a bit for your Hall-of-Fame candidacy -- that you should shake a few hands and kiss a few babies. Have you discovered yet that I am right?
IRVIN: "I am aware, I think, of which voters are for me and which voters are not. I think there are some very influencial voters that believe in me and my credentials. I'll let them -- and God -- take it from there.''

TRR: Speaking of influencial media people: You got beat up pretty good after your race-talk Tony Romo jokes. Is the fallout over with now? Any repercussions?
IRVIN: "I guess I learned something from it. That maybe the laughs that were a part of the words needed to be more obvious, so people would be sure that I was kidding. I certainly wasn't trying to hurt anyone's feelings. It's the sort of joking around, without worrying about. ... what's the word, Fish? Taboos? ... without worrying about taboos. That's the way people joke in the locker room. Hey, I've heard you say things 1,000 times more 'offensive' on the radio. But somehow people know you're joking. Why is that?''

TRR: Are you suggesting a subtle racism here?
IRVIN: "No, but I'm aware of how race plays a role in so much of what we do. Look at the TV screen (it's an ESPN report on the Duke lacrosse rape case). Look at the facts of that case. Look at who is being taken down. The black woman. And the DA. Somehow, the alleged perpetrators -- for whatever reason -- aren't facing the same punishments as others have faced in similar circumstances.''

TRR: Including you?
IRVIN: "Yes, including me. What do you think?!''

TRR: Overall, how do you rate yourself as a broadcaster?
IRVIN: "I'm trying to be the best in the business, just like I tried to be as a football player. ESPN is allowing me to branch out a little, to try to do some voice-over work and stuff, which I appreciate. ... I talk to some players now, and I tell them to do what I eventually did: Get with a voice coach, learn to present yourself better. I interviewed LaDainian Tomlinson (last week) and he's such a special guy, always making sure to honor his past and thank the people around him. He refered to Jim Brown -- every time -- as "Mr. Brown.'' If LT eventually gets guidance on how to present himself, he has a future doing anything he wants. Emmitt's another one; he's getting voice-coaching now, which will be good -- because as you saw on 'Dancing With The Stars,' people love Emmitt. They WANT to love him!''

TRR: It's weird, though: A lot of athletes, as hard as they work to become athletes, seem to have some misplaced macho attitude when it comes to other things in their lives, whether it's dealing with the media, intellectual self-improvement, relationships with women, whatever.
IRVIN: "Fish, a man needs to learn how to funnel and channel and control his testosterone. They (pointing at a nearby table of young women), they don't have to worry about that. They have other worries -- but not that. Testosterone is part of why we're competitive, part of why we want to win, part of what drives us. But it's also what makes an inexperienced ball-carrier always want to run over a defender instead of making one cut to get around him. Testasterone! A man's greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness.''

TRR: How strong of a contender do you believe the Cowboys are?
IRVIN: "I think they're the real deal. Keep watching our show on Sundays and Mondays (on ESPN), because we'll be talking about the Cowboys alot. But yes, I think the Cowboys are the real deal.''

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