Times-Herald a few years before Irvin arrived on the scene, compiled a dossier of Irvin's numbers against the top corners, the Hall of Famers: Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Aeneas Williams and Deion Sanders. It was even better than the overall numbers. That's why Irvin made it to the Hall of Fame: What he did in the biggest games against the best players.
But he was able to do that because of a work ethic that lifted his teammates and made them better. Garrett, the Cowboys' newly-hired offensive coordinator, remembers a summer night in the mid-90s that describes Irvin perfectly.
The story Garrett recounted Saturday occurred somewhere in the mid-90s, after the Cowboys' '92 and '93 championships, after Irvin had been a Pro Bowl pick at least twice.
"It's the Sunday night before training camp opened on Thursday," Garrett recalls. Then the team's backup quarterback, Garrett was returning to Dallas from his family home in New Jersey. "I land about 5 in the afternoon and I've got 10 messages from Michael Irvin. 'Red, I need you to meet me at the complex tonight. I need to get some throws before camp.'
"So I meet him at the complex at 7 p.m. It's 100 degrees. No one there but the two of us. I'm wearing grays (t-short and shorts). Irvin's wearing his helmet, his shoulder pads, this big heavy weight vest he wore in practice and these hot rubber pants. We run metabolics, which are position-specific exercises. For receivers, that means running routes. And he's running them.
"We do five sets of ten of these things. Not a lot is said. He runs a route, hard, catches the ball, walks it back, does it again. Stops after a set to swig some Gatorade. We're doing 50, 60 throws, and after about throw 35, I'm sweating, I'm thinking, 'I'm getting a little tired.' He's out there in his rubber pants and his big freakin' weight vest running more routes. And I remember thinking, 'This is why this guy is so good.' And there's not a soul there to see it."
Turner mentions how Irvin made average players good, what he did to make the Alvin Harpers and Larry Browns of the world significant cogs. He's asked, which Irvin was more important: The one who made plays, outfought defenders, prevented interceptions, or the one who lifted his teammates to be better? "You can't separate them," he says shaking his head. "You have to have both. For Michael, not doing everything in his power to win championships would have meant he had not done what he was supposed to do."
Jerry Jones remembers Irvin coming out for stretching in practice, one of the last ones out, standing in front of the whole team "and yelling, 'Hold up now. Hold 'em up: who out here is gonna outwork me today?' Every now and then he had some takers, but no one ever managed it."
Many observers around the country don't like Irvin because of his off-field problems. Some don't like his personality on television. One voter said Friday, "He's a despicable human being, but I'm voting for him."
But the point is, he's not a despicable human being. He is a different person than the one who was in trouble every day 10 years ago. You don't have to like or be comfortable with his frequent professions of faith, and many aren't.
All those of us who know him can do is tell you what we know. Five years ago, the recently-retired Irvin was trying to break into broadcasting. One of his first jobs was being the analyst on the TV games of the brand-new Arena League Desperados. I was his partner on those games. I traveled with him. I watched him work. I watched him stay in his room at night and study. We talked a lot. Please don't try to tell me what's fake and what's real about Michael Irvin.
Every new Hall of Famer's initial remarks are moving, in one way or another. Saturday afternoon, just miles from his boyhood home, from his high school field, from his college experience, Michael Irvin was the most composed and eloquent of them. He's worked hard on that, too.
Michael Irvin, was not, however, concerned about being kept out of the Hall of Fame for things that happened or happen off the football field. Why not?
"Because," he whispered on his way out of the Convention Center at long last, "I was not in control of any of that, so I could not