Sunday, August 05, 2007

Irvin's Touching Speech Wins Over Detractor

A story I wrote in 1998 about former NMSU head football coach Jim Hess, who was then a scout for the Dallas Cowboys. Hess was in El Paso, Texas, for a scrimmage between the Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders.

There was a time when I hated Michael Irvin.

You see, growing up I never thought much about the Dallas Cowboys. They were in an NFC town, and I was born and raised in an AFC town.

If anything, I would have told you that the only real football team from Dallas was the Dallas Texans, who became the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then in July 1992, I moved to Phoenix. According to Google maps, it's a 1,067 mile drive from Dallas to Phoenix. So you might not expect to see many Cowboys fans there.

You'd be wrong.

I was amazed at the number of Cowboys fans. They were everywhere. Everywhere! To put it in perspective, the 1992 Cardinals averaged 33,911 fans in the seven home games that were not the Dallas Cowboys. For the Cowboys game, 72,439 people showed up.

And the Cowboys were good then, too. Damned good.

So as part of my fervent anti-bandwagon tendency, I ended up hating the Cowboys.

I was busy then, going to school, working, and getting married. There wasn't much Internet or sports radio to speak of then, so I didn't actually know much about the Cowboys and Irvin. And I certainly didn't read newspaper articles about them.

But I hated them.

Things got worse when I moved to New Mexico, which is really Cowboy country. Many of my friends from the NMSU student newspaper were Cowboys fans. They'd watch the games in the newsroom on Sunday afternoons.

I didn't see the games. As always, I was too busy working. Writing a column. Editing copy. Something.

Anyway, the Super Bowl victories fanned the flames. The hatred grew. I hated only the Oakland Raiders more than the Cowboys, as any Kansas City native will understand.

In some bit of irony, I covered a Raiders-Cowboys at the El Paso Sun Bowl in 1999 as sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News. As a journalist, I was forced to be neutral. Perhaps that began to soften the hate. Given the timeline, Irvin and I probably were on the same field that day. Sadly I just don't remember.

Fast forward to 2007, and in another small bit of irony, I'm living in Texas. I've grown to respect Irvin as I learned of his work ethic. It's hard to hate someone universally acclaimed as the hardest worker on the practice field.

Too many times these days, you read of millionaire prima donnas such as Allen Iverson who think that practice is beneath them.

Not so with Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin. His will to win was unmistakable. And I've just got to respect someone for whom the fire burns within.

Watching Irvin as a television analyst, I've gotten a bit more respect. Sure, he is guilty of catering to his cronies, but I enjoy listening to him. Perhaps due to his father's roots as a pastor, Irvin has an attention-grabbing speaking style.

Saturday night Irvin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He spoke for 26 minutes. Newspaper accounts say that tears began to flow during minute 21. That's just like a sports writer to note the clock on crying, don't you think?

Irvin gave a moving, impassioned speech. He could have ducked his many off-field troubles. He did not. As if he were facing a strong safety in the middle of the field, Irvin lowered his shoulder and went right through the tough times.

On the same night, Barry "BALCO" Bonds tied Hank Aaron's record for career home runs at 755.

These men could not be more different. Bonds is aloof, arrogant, and a detractor to the locker room. And he will not address the steroid allegations.

Irvin led the locker room. He "never let the team have a bad practice," as team owner Jerry Jones acknowledged during his introduction of Irvin.

So on Saturday he stood in front of the crowd and acknowledged letting down his wife, his children, and his family and friends. He spoke of his struggles to be a better father every day.

I was touched.

The last few shreds of hate blew away last night. In there place are respect and empathy. Everyone knows what it is like to let down those you love, and hopefully every parent knows what it is like to want to be a better parent.

I hope that a lot of would-be 14-year-old athletes were watching last night and learned something.

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