Will history repeat in Dallas??

By Kevin Sherrington
Updated: May 5, 2010

DALLAS — One afternoon in the spring of 1988, as I sat on the front porch of a small home in a battered neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — waiting on Michael Irvin — attention gradually shifted to a member of our little welcome party.

He wouldn’t take his eyes off the street, he was so intent on spotting Irvin. Finally someone chuckled and said, “He thinks he can smell Michael coming.”

I was there to write a story about the Cowboys’ first-round pick, the last of the Landry-Schramm-Brandt era.

Most of the rest on the porch were simply waiting on a meal ticket.

The memory surfaced after the latest episode in the unfortunate story of Dez Bryant, Irvin’s long-awaited heir apparent.

Straight up: Bryant’s upbringing is a Southern Gothic tale, a dark collection of secrets exposed all at once to the glare of an unblinking public. Born into a set of circumstances only Tennessee Williams could appreciate – a 15-year-old mother who would be charged with numerous drug offenses, a father of dubious means – Bryant had the rotten luck of being unable to choose his parents.

Still, somehow, he grew up. Had a couple of good friends.

One remains close. The other is in prison.

As Bryant told the story to our Jacques Taylor, his wayward friend did something Bryant wanted no part of, before or after. For that mistake, his friend still pays. For Bryant, it was a lesson learned.

Bryant has never been arrested, as far we know, or surely it would have come out by now. Never been charged with drug possession. Never been arrested for beating a girlfriend. Never caught packing a gun in a nightclub.

Never so much as pulled a Sharpie out of his sock.

Now don’t construe this as a testimonial on Bryant’s character.

Most of what I know about him is what you’ve heard: a tremendous talent who works hard, shows up late and once famously lied to the NCAA.

The denial set off alarms and fueled a story now out of control. Several parties are at fault. The NFL once again stands guilty of building up prospects and talking themselves out of them; Jeff Ireland, general manager of the Dolphins, callously asked a question he shouldn’t have; and Bryant’s mother failed to recede into the background when afforded the opportunity.

Had she not kept talking about decade-old slights on her and her family, ESPN probably wouldn’t have revealed her more recent transgressions.

From all appearances, the least culpable person in this mess is Bryant himself.

Whatever you think of his lie to the NCAA, he paid handsomely for it, sitting out the rest of his last season at Oklahoma State. Frankly, that should have been the end of it.

Of course, whether a team wants to invest in a player or not is its prerogative. The Cowboys let Randy Moss slide, and Jerry Jones has regretted it ever since.

But let me ask a couple of questions: How many other athletes do you think would have lied to the NCAA about an association they fear might cost them eligibility? How many athletes could safely weather the scrutiny Bryant’s family has now endured?

Let’s not kid ourselves about Bryant’s story. As bad as it is, there are many, many similar tales.

Michael Irvin was blessed with wonderful parents and a generally supportive family.

But perfect families went out with black-and-white TV. The third-youngest of 17 children, Irvin faced typical expectations when he finally hit it big.

“Somebody’s always got their hand out,” he told me in 1988. “I’m a 20-year-old kid with a 40-year-old man’s responsibilities.

“But that’s all right. I love them.”

When Irvin was in the news for all the wrong reasons in the ’90s, I sometimes wondered how familial pressures might have influenced his actions. Even if they did, it was no justification. A man must be held accountable for his mistakes.

He simply shouldn’t have to pay for his parents’.

Whatever Irvin’s sins, the Cowboys didn’t hold his family against him. They never regretted drafting him, either. Until he gives them reason, the new No. 88 rates a benefit of the doubt, too.