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Article: Luksa - Fame will be put on hold for Irvin
Frank Luksa: Fame will be put on hold for Irvin
Michael Irvin is among those who are first-time eligible to become members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2005, an exciting prospect until memory reminds of a gloomy trend. Hold the applause. Far too many Cowboys have learned that being nominated is as close as they come to being inducted.
Recall the infamous results from the last HOF selection committee meeting. Anti-Cowboys bias rejected Bob Hayes, Cliff Harris and Rayfield Wright for inclusion into the Canton shrine. Defeating all three stained the process as non-credible.
So what are Irvinís chances against an ingrained bloc of resistance and a glaring wart on his resume? Odds on Irvin are long before voting even begins because Dan Marino and Steve Young are walk-in candidates whose inductions will reduce the number of openings for the less glamorous.
Irvin still should receive the most deliberate consideration from a list of nominated Cowboys that includes Drew Pearson, Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin and Everson Walls. The others have been eligible for years, never advanced to the finals, and wonít again. Charles Haley, a part-time Cowboy, and Nate Newton, released recently from prison after serving time on a drug charge, also made the ballot for the first time.
As a selection committee delegate for 25 years (1976-2000), I became familiar with how difficult it was to represent a qualified Cowboy. Mel Renfro was my last success, and he wasnít cleared until his 15th year of eligibility. The delay shamed an athlete who earned 10 Pro Bowl trips and five All-Pro honors as a cornerback and free safety.
Anyway, back to Irvin and his credentials.
He played for a three-time Super Bowl champion. Winners get the benefit of the doubt as marginal qualifiers. Waves of Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Miami inductees from their Super Bowl eras illustrate the lean in that direction. The same factor should favor Irvin.
His career numbers (750 receptions, 11,904 yards) were solid enough to rank in a tie for 10th all time at the point of an injury forced retirement. Irvin still holds or is tied for 20 Cowboys receiving records. Would he have been that good without a passer of Troy Aikmanís quality? How much did he benefit from Emmitt Smithís rushing threat? Or was it that without Irvin, Aikman and Smith would have known less success?
Length of career is another plus. He was active for 12 seasons (1988-í99), although in truth he played the equivalent of only 11. Irvin lost a total of 17 games -- two as a rookie to an ankle sprain, 10 the next season to a severe knee injury and five more in í96 for a reason to be enlarged upon later.
Excellent practice habits and give-all game day attitude are other positives. Irvin was tough, fearless and durable to the point that he didnít miss a game through injury for nine consecutive seasons. When injury did strike, it was catastrophic. On Oct. 10, 1999, at Veterans Stadium, Irvin caught an eight-yard pass, was tackled and suffered a bruised spine that ended his career.
He was 33, with a few more productive seasons ahead that would have pushed his reception totals past 800 and 12,000 yards. It should be a point for HOF selectors to consider.
Those of negative mindset will fashion on how few individual honors Irvin accrued. He made an All-NFC and All-Pro lineup only once, in 1991. He earned five trips to the Pro Bowl, but Cowboys such as Don Perkins, Chuck Howley, John Niland, Wright, Harris and Newton went six times.
Now to those five games Irvin missed in 1996. The reason: suspension by commissioner Paul Tagliabue for conduct detrimental to the NFL. This followed Irvinís no contest plea on a charge of felony cocaine possession. He was fined $10,000, given four years' probation and sentenced to serve 800 hours of community service. Irvin lost $162,647 in salary for each game he sat out.
Thus the question of whether a drug charge disqualifies Irvin as a HOF hopeful. No. Neither does burglary, armed robbery or presumably murder. This is because by-laws restrict voters to consider evidence other than on-field performance.
Has any player with a suspension in his background been inducted? Oh, yes, and more than once. The late commissioner Pete Rozelle took Paul Hornung out of action for one year for gambling on NFL games during the '60s. Lawrence Taylor took four games off for substance abuse, yet was approved as a first-time nominee during the most heated discussion of my experience since the nomination of Al Davis.
Do I think Irvin will be inducted? Yes, but not this time. The usual anti-Cowboys virus will work against him. A few others will make a moral issue of his candidacy even if rules forbid bringing that judgment into play. To quote pure odds, I list Irvin no better than 50-50 to be approved.