JFE-Movie role just part of Irvin's recovery from chaos
Movie role just part of Irvin's recovery from chaos
By Jennifer Floyd Engel
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
DALLAS - Cocaine binges did not keep former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His exclusion had zero to do with his well-publicized forays into the criminal justice system. Nor did any anti-Cowboys bias, real or imagined, prevent his entry.
Irvin and his 750 catches, 11,904 yards, 65 touchdowns and three Super Bowl rings simply were not good enough. Or, at least, that is what Irvin tells himself even though it rings completely false to him and many who watched him play.
Irvin says he has to tell himself that. The alternative is the people who told him "they may slap you on the wrist, they may not let you in right away because of your history" are right and, to believe that, is to acknowledge the Hall of Fame process is flawed. If Irvin is not in because of off-the-field issues, a direct contradiction of the bylaws, it taints the process.
"I can't allow that to seep into my thinking because, then, when I do get in, if I get in, does it take away from that moment that this process is not right?" said Irvin, who retired in 2000. "So I said to myself, and I hold it real, that they didn't feel I deserved it with what I did on the football field. I have to say to myself, 'You are not good enough to get in. That is how they voted.' I can't sit and think about anything else. It's the only way I can move past it."
And, during an interview recently, Irvin appeared to have blown past his exclusion much like he used to do with opposing cornerbacks. He was sitting in a suite at the Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, sipping Perrier and talking to his wife, Sandy.
"I'm having a blast, baby," Irvin is saying when a media rep from Paramount Pictures informs him that his next interviewer has arrived.
Irvin was doing the interviews movie studios set up to promote films -- the ones that big, Big, BIG actors and actresses hate -- and he is loving every minute. Promoting The Longest Yard, a remake of the 1974 classic sports film is the stuff of his wildest childhood fantasies.
And, while making his acting debut, Irvin attacked movie making in typical Michael fashion, with intensity and gusto.
"His practice habits!" said actor Burt Reynolds, who is in the original and the remake. "I wasn't surprised, but, at the same time, I was. He brought this energy to the picture that was so intense; it was amazing. He absolutely wanted to be a good actor so bad, and he would do anything to make the shot better. Anything. He brings this intensity that he had as an NFL player."
What Reynolds does not know, could not know, is what Irvin only recently figured out.
Life without football
Much like the Greek mythical character Icarus, the intensity that pushes Irvin to do great things also contributed to his less-than-great moments, the ones that at least one Hall of Fame voter intimated were being held against the Cowboys receiver.
"I never did anything during a season, never messed around during the season, and could always get rid of the getting high in the off-season with the love of the football," Irvin said. "I served football over all. The game was my god. Now, the problem came in when I no longer had football to bring me out of this tailspin. And I said to myself, 'Mike, mess around, get high, but pull up in two weeks.' "
Except two weeks came and he was still getting high. Three weeks passed and he was still getting high. A month had passed, then two, and he still had not stopped.
He remembers leaving the house one day and promising his wife he would be right back. Drinks with friends had him traipsing back home the next day, and his wife said: "You lied to me."
"I looked at her, and all I could say was: 'I want to deal with that, but I lied to myself. I thought I was coming back.' That hit me," Irvin said. "Maybe all of those years of thinking you could control this wasn't you controlling this but your football pulling you out of it. And, now, you don't have football, you are not as strong as you think. You are not able to stop. You have a problem here, Michael. That was devastating to me to find out. You are no longer a football player, and you are weaker than you thought."
The whole thing culminated with his very public disgrace, including being dumped by The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
It is from this mess that Irvin picked himself up, dusted himself off and began creating his best life. Irvin admits he still sometimes cannot fathom how he got from there to promoting a movie in which he plays a role.
"There is a scene in the movie where I decide I am letting the guys play and we are walking over the hill and I'm thinking, 'Hey, this is just a little black boy from Fort Lauderdale who dreamed in his yard of catching touchdowns and you are in a movie, man, and you are walking up to Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds and Chris Rock," Irvin said. "This is a major production. Major. Production. And you are walking up to these guys. Wow! WOW! How did you get from there to here. Amen. It couldn't be nothing but God. That is why I am so blessed."
Life is good for Irvin. The Longest Yard opens in theatres nationwide Friday. He was a finalist in the best studio analyst category for the 2005 Sports Emmy Awards. He and his wife are happy. His kids are good. He is clean and sober.
Actually, life is better than good. It is working out better than planned.
"To say that things are working out well has to come from somewhere. That means there was a time that it didn't work out," Irvin said. "This is joy unspeakable, but to get to that joy unspeakable we had to go through that chaos unspeakable."
Chaos, as it has a tendency to do, begets more chaos. Irvin's worst moments are what is keeping some voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame from honoring his best ones. Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman said he felt Irvin failed to secure the necessary 80 percent of the 39 votes in February because of his past indiscretions.
The worst part is Irvin thought he was in. As many as six people can be inducted into the Hall every year and Irvin made the final six.
"And they are reading names and they stop at four and, ooohhh, it hit me," Irvin said. "I didn't make it, and I was so hurt, so devastated. My wife is holding my hand. Everybody is trying to say everything they want they think you need to hear."
They were telling him that he'll get in next season. He will get in the Hall of Fame eventually. Irvin is not so sure.
"I'm sure people told Harry Carson, 'Oh, you'll be in next year," and, 15 years later, he's still not in. I'm sure people said to Art Monk, 'You'll be in next year. Don't worry.' But he's not in," Irvin said. "Those are my realities."
Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple was in the room when the news came. He has known Irvin since Irvin was a 17-year-old at the University of Miami.
He has seen him through Super Bowl championships and arraignments. And he has watched him handle both with aplomb. He also watched reality knock Irvin in the stomach like a punch.
"I told him, 'Michael, your whole life has been about getting knocked down and getting back up,' " Dalrymple said. "He will, at some point, use his will, personality and relentless pursuit to be the best to help him get in the Hall of Fame."
One of the best things about Irvin is he is real.
Not only does he acknowledge he might not make the Hall of Fame, but he admits demons never really go away and "anybody who ever tells you they do is lying to you. He is not facing the reality."
This is why Irvin begins every day with a workout then retreats into the steam room, where he prays. It is an unlikely spot, but it works because "it's as hot as I don't know what in the steam room and it makes you think, 'I bet hell is like this, real very hot.' " So he prays, a simple prayer. He says thank you for what he has and asks for protection.
"I'm not so much worried about protecting me from others, but I ask him to continue to protect me from the enemy in me," he said. "It is that other devil on my shoulder that keeps reminding me of what I used to do and he wants me to go and he wants to send my flesh back. He reminds me with somebody walking by me or somebody offering me stuff."
Irvin knows he very easily could be Deacon Moss, his character in the movie, rather than just playing him in The Longest Yard.
Irvin says he has a lot in common with Moss, punctuating with the irony with one of his laughs, the kind that fill a room with joy. He can laugh now. He knows how it all ends.
Former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin is not the first athlete to try acting, and he's not the first to be good at it. Other athletes who had memorable forays in Hollywood:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball, Airplane!
Abdul-Jabbar's response of "I've been hearing that since I was at UCLA" to the kid on the plane who was told by his dad that Kareem only plays hard in the playoffs was comedic genius. (Two thumbs up)
Alex Karras, football, Blazing Saddles
The big guy was perfect as the comedic Mongo. With the strength of an ox, he even punches out a horse. (Two thumbs up)
O.J. Simpson, football, The Naked Gun
Uhm, knowing what we know now, is anybody else freaked out by the glove scene? (Two thumbs down)
Jim Brown, football, The Dirty Dozen
This is the ultimate guys movie. (Three thumbs up)
Shaquille O'Neal, basketball, Kazaam
There is no truth to the rumors that the MVP voters held this movie against him, giving the award to Steve Nash. (Two thumbs down)
-- Jennifer Floyd Engel