By CLARENCE E. HILL JR, .
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
DETROIT -- Call Michael Irvin a learned man.
Devastated last year about not making the final cut for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being one of six finalists, Irvin said he will not be suckered into getting his hopes up this year.
The pain of rejection -- after thinking there was no way he wouldn't get in -- is still too real for the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver, who is one of 15 finalists for this year's class, along with former Cowboys Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright.
Voting is scheduled to be held Saturday in Detroit, site of Super Bowl XL.
"I don't want to deal with the hurt I dealt with last year," Irvin said. "It did hurt. What I learned was, 'Let's just wait. Don't put your heart on that table again like that.' Like anybody, we try to protect ourselves."
Irvin's fiery and intense demeanor was part of what made him a great football player, and he acknowledges that being patient and waiting is not his preferred style.
However, last year's emotional roller coaster, which had him weeping in the arms of his wife, has forced him to be patient.
That's probably a smart strategy because he faces the same obstacles -- off-the-field controversies during and after his career, and his great, but not stratospheric statistics.
And there's the voters' at-least perceived anti-Cowboys bias that would seem to make it unlikely for three former Cowboys to be selected in the same class.
Aikman, the quarterback of three Super Bowl title teams, is a shoo-in. Wright, as the senior's committee candidate and the best offensive lineman from great teams of the 1970s, might get the nod over Irvin because of his age.
"I am patient after you have been banged around," Irvin said. "I want it more than anything, but I am willing to wait on it now. Last year, I wanted it right now, now. Let's do it right now.
"But I am willing to wait now."
Irvin has thought about last year's vote and analyzed it over and over during the past year.
He has wondered if things would be different if he wouldn't have been forced to retire after the 1999 season -- at age 34 -- because of a spinal condition.
His career totals of 750 catches for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns were good enough to put him in the all-time top 10 when he retired. He is now 17th in catches behind the likes of Keenan McCardell, Rod Smith, Isaac Bruce and Jimmy Smith.
"I think about had I not got hurt and put up more numbers," Irvin said. "But does that mean I have to be losing more games and get meaningless catches? The most important thing is winning Super Bowls. I got three of those."
Irvin's three Super Bowl rings will be part of his Hall of Fame game plan for Saturday.
He uses the rings to match his other jewelry. He wore his platinum ring from Super Bowl XXX on Tuesday to match his platinum watch, platinum necklace and platinum bracelet. He does the same with gold rings from Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII.
But he says the rings are as important to him for comfort and support as they are for accessorizing.
"If it doesn't work out in the Hall of Fame, the best way for me to recover is to have my rings with me," Irvin said. "They will be sitting on a table in front of me. When I wake up, I can say those are mine and no one can take those away.
"That's the way I will approach it."
Clarence E. Hill Jr., (817) 390-7760 email@example.com