Irvin Receives His Place In Canton, Showing Voters Didn’t Drop The Ball

By Ethan J. Skolnick
Updated: February 5, 2007

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The news spread to Diplomat Landing, where Dallas Cowboys luminaries Troy Aikman and Jerry Jones had been scheduled to appear at Leigh Steinberg’s Saturday party if something historic hadn’t come up.

Even without Aikman and Jones around, you could find someone to tell you a Michael Irvin story, since few played football in South Florida at any level without experiencing a Playmaker moment.

“We were playing Florida State my sophomore year, and we were on the last drive, and we were going down to hit [Jeremy] Shockey, and I had an incompletion to Reggie Wayne in the corner of the end zone,” former University of Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey said. “And I look over to the sideline to get the next play, and Michael Irvin is there, just yelling, `Just give him a chance! Just give him a chance!’” Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters did the right thing on their third try. They gave Michael Irvin a chance. They judged him on his body of NFL work, rather than working him over for his off-the-field indiscretions.

He is South Florida’s, forever, for all his flaws and foibles. One of 17 children, he represents the challenge many area residents face to survive and achieve.

He represents the Hurricane’s “U” image most perfectly of anyone in the program’s colorful history — his brashness, excellence, loyalty, passion.

He is Canton’s, also forever, because of NFL play that came close enough to flawless.

He belongs in each place equally.

He was an elite receiver on an elite team, and dominant when it mattered. He scored two touchdowns in 18 seconds in the Super Bowl XXVII victory.

He retired because of a narrow spinal column, ranking 10th on the all-time receptions list and ninth in yardage. What he could have done had he played past age 31 is no more relevant to the Hall discussion, however, than his exploits while off the clock.

He is an imperfect man, yes. Who isn’t?

Just because a man poses for a mug shot shouldn’t disqualify him from posing for a bronze sculpture, any more than personal mistakes should disqualify someone from earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or etching a signature in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“I think it is naive to think that a voter, who doesn’t like a player or had a problem with him, isn’t going to think about it when he is voting,” Aikman said.

It is particularly naïve because sports observers, whether in press boxes or the stands, tend to take more sanctimonious stances than followers of other modern entertainments — when it’s convenient, of course.

Fans who wag a finger at Irvin would raise that finger in a “No. 1″ salute if he had scored touchdowns for their team.

If the Cincinnati Bengals, with nine arrests in nine months, had won a Super Bowl this season, they could have celebrated that title in a holding pen for all their supporters could have cared.

So why should “character” be a requirement for induction?

Lawrence Taylor, indiscretions widely known, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame already. But we cannot truly know the true character of the others who preceded and followed Taylor. O.J. Simpson and Kirby Puckett are among countless athletes who revealed sides inconsistent with carefully-crafted images; others have just proven superior at shrouding secrets.

So how are we to disqualify some, and not others, without all the information?

Irvin has never been accused of taking a performance-enhancing drug, thereby cheating the game and its spirit of fair competition. That would be a offense worthy of exclusion. If anything, his fast life cheated his performance, yet that performance still ranks plenty high.

Some, in championing Irvin’s candidacy, have focused on his fine community work, here in particular. Still, that shouldn’t have bore weight, either.

Just this: Was he great at his chosen profession? Great enough?

Yes. Yes.

“If I hadn’t got in, I would have had to tell my kids, `See what happens when you screw up,’” Irvin said.

It would have been a fine lesson. Just not any that voters should be empowered to teach. Kudos to them for not screwing up Saturday.