Michael Irvin was born on March 5, 1966, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Walter and Pearl Irvin. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children. His father brought two children from a previous marriage and his mother had six; together they added nine more. Irvin's house on 27th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale only had two bedrooms until his father converted the porch and the garage into extra living space. Still, Irvin never had his own bed until he went to college. Irvin's father was a hardworking roofer who worked long hours six days a week. Irvin's mother took care of the house full of children.
Irvin's family was poor, and he was often without shoes that fit, but his father refused to allow his children to complain. Irvin's main problem as a growing boy was getting enough to eat. With little food in the house, Irvin would scheme to fill his rumbling stomach. He would often wait until everyone went to sleep and then sneak into the kitchen to polish off a whole box of cereal, usually softened with tap water as milk was often not to be found in the refrigerator. When there was nothing else, he would eat mayonnaise or ketchup sandwiches.
Christmases often passed with no presents, and Irvin dreamed of an easier life. By the time he was a teenager, he was determined to make things better for both himself and his family. He began hanging out with a rough crowd and, by his own admission, made some poor choices. After he was suspended at the end of his sophomore year at Piper High School, his father decided his son needed a more positive environment and in 1982 enrolled
him at St. Thomas Aquinas, a private Catholic school. Piper High, which didn't want to lose the school's star athlete, protested the transfer. A court ruling determined that Irvin could attend St. Thomas but would be required to sit out of athletics his junior year because Piper had refused to sign a waiver allowing him to participate.