Michael Irvin's 'Grand Opening'

Michael Irvin's teary-eyed entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday was a ribbon-cutting ceremony of sorts. While HOF entrance usually means the honoring of what a man has already accomplished, to me, what was being celebrated under the lights in Canton was the first day of the rest of the life of the Charismatic Cowboy.

"I'm going to use this experience,'' Michael told me a couple of weeks ago, "as a starting point.''

I didn't know what he meant then. After watching his spiritually-driven speech, I do now.

Irvin never was about stats – so I won't bother saddling you with those here. (Notably, Irvin's emotional delivery never bothered mentioning numbers, Jerry Jones' introductory speech only touched on them, and the pre-packaged TV bio did the same.)

Instead, the day was about "heart.''

Jones termed Irvin "the heartbeat'' of the championship Dallas teams. Michael himself referred to a variety of friends and family as "my heart.'' He demonstrated his own heart throughout his moving presentation. But if you want another revelation, walk with me through Michael's speech the way I know he intended it to be: In five sections, five chapters, with another yet to come. …

Chapter 1: FAITH
With no "bow your heads'' command, Irvin began his speech with a prayer. By the time he got to "Amen,'' the audience was hooked.

Chapter 2: FAILURES
Irvin pleaded no contest and was placed on four years probation after a March 1996 arrest invoving drugs and strippers in a hotel room. Before and after that incident, he's had other "battles with demons,'' as he has said.

Was this a day to even mention such things? Yes, Irvin believed.

In preparing for this speech, Irvin told me he wanted to address the "transgressions'' head-on. He said he wished to do so not only to "come clean,'' but also to disarm his detractors. "If I say the truth about myself, it takes the power away from others,'' he'd said.

So, in his speech, there is this line, again in prayer: "God, I have my struggles and I made some bad decisions.'' And this prayer: "I was voiceless, but my heart cried out, ‘God, why must I go through so many peaks and valleys? Why must I go through so much?'''

Mission accomplished. How do you dislike a man who, on one of the grandest stages in sports, strips down to an emotional nakedness and admits he's human?

Chapter 3: FAMILY
Michael again addressed his failures, telling wife Sandy that while marriage is supposed to be about "for better or worse,'' he'd given her too much of the "for worst. And you didn't deserve that, baby.'' He heaped praise on his mother, Pearl, remembering that she used to say God promised that her "latter days will be better than her former days'' and that these are now those better times. And he recalled his late father as "my hero.''

Chapter 4: FOOTBALL
For Irvin, football was mostly about extended family (as if being one of 17 kids wasn't a large enough family as it was!) He singled out his football family at St. Aquinas High, his football family at the University of Miami, and most of all, his football family with the Cowboys. From PR director Rich Dalrymple to the late Tom Landry (Michael said Landry and his father, Walter Irvin, were together in Heaven watching the ceremony) to Jerry Jones' wife, Gene, Irvin rattled off dozens of names – each of them in a heartfelt manner. Among ex-teammates, he singled out stars like Troy Aikman and unknowns like Derrick Shepard, coaching legends like Jimmy Johnson (even Jerry acknowledged Jimmy's greatness) and coaching grunts like his old position coach Hubbard Alexander and strength coach Mike Woicik. Deion Sanders, Tex Schramm, Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Larry Allen, Jay Novacek, Gil Brandt, Jim Jeffcoat, Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Dave Wannstedt, Norv Turner, Dave Campo (accidentally, "Campos'' to Irvin). … he covered a lot of old Cowboys ground.

It became clear that football wasn't so much about the yards and the TDs or even the money. It was about camaraderie. It was about a football team needing a driving force – and about Michael being born to that job.

In closing his presentation, Irvin asked his sons Michael, 10, and Elijah, 8, to stand. Touching again on his personal demons while tears streamed down his face, he told a story in the form of a prayer in which he said he recently heard a voice from above that ordered him to "Look up. Get up. But don't ever give up.''

He continued: "Help me raise them for some young lady, so that they can be a better husband than I. Help me raise them for their kids, so that they can be a better father than I. … I tell you guys to always do the right thing so you can be a better role model than Dad. … Look up. Get up. But don't ever, ever give up.''

And what about that "another-yet-to-come'' chapter?

Chapter 6: FUTURE
Very subtly tucked into Irvin's prayer was the suggestion that other Hall members such as 2006 inductees Troy Aikman are better role models than he's been. Irvin is a proud man – I'm only half-joking when I say his kiss of his bronze bust was likely a very romantic moment for him – so imagine the shock to his pride when he came upon the realization that he's joining a fraternity that includes men more qualified to lead his children than he himself!

That humbling thought can be what drives Michael now. All of the above factors can push him to be in his next 40 years something better than what he was in his first 40 years.

Yes, now I see what he'd meant. This WAS a starting point.

Michael Jerome Irvin, you just cut the ribbon on the Grand Opening of the rest of your life.

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