Michael Irvin - The Playmaker
Irvin lettered in football and basketball at St. Thomas. His football team went undefeated and won the state championship when he was a senior. However, his senior year was marred by the death of his beloved father from cancer. Staying close to home, Irvin attended the University of Miami, playing for the Hurricanes under head coach Jimmy Johnson. As Irvin began receiving attention for his outstanding athletic abilities, he also began being noticed for his mouth and his ego. But Johnson and the Miami coaching staff gave Irvin a wide berth, knowing his background and correctly assuming that his ability and enthusiasm could lead the team to a national championship.
During his three years as a starting receiver for the University of Miami, Irvin, who had become known by the nickname "Playmaker," set Miami records for most career catches (143), receiving yards (2423), and touchdown receptions (26). He was selected as the eleventh overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had been struggling, finishing the previous season just 3-13. Despite Irvin's reputation as an egomaniacal trash talker who was potentially trouble off the field, Dallas was desperate for an influx of fresh talent.
As a rookie Irvin became the team's starting wide receiver. He used his $1.8 million contract to buy his mother a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool in Fort Lauderdale and supplied her with the first credit card she had ever carried. In his second year, Irvin was reunited with his college coach when the Cowboys' new owner, Jerry Jones, fired long-time coach Tom Landry and hired Jimmy Johnson. Irvin, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the sixth game of the 1989 season, missed the remainder of the season.
Returning to play in the fifth game of the 1990 season, Irvin led the team in yards-per-carry, but the Cowboys still finished with a losing record of 7-9. The following year the team started off 6-5 before winning the last five games of the season and earning a spot in the playoffs. The 1991 season proved to be Irvin's break-out year. In his fourth season in the league he caught ninety-three passes for 1,523 yards, compared to a combined total of seventy-eight receptions for 1,445 yards during his first three seasons. As the leading receiver in the nation in 1991, Irvin was invited to his first Pro Bowl and selected as the game's most valuable player. Typical of Irvin's demeanor and emotion, he ranted on the sidelines of the Pro Bowl, which is commonly a laidback affair, because he felt he should be getting more receptions. His Pro Bowl teammates shrugged their shoulders, and Irvin ended up with eight receptions for 125 yards.
The Cowboys' powerful offense, led by Irvin, quarterback Troy Aikman, and running back Emmitt Smith, rolled through the next two seasons, winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Irvin had seventy-eight receptions for 1,396 yards in 1992 and eighty-eight receptions for 1,330 yards in 1993. He thrilled Cowboy fans in the 1994 Super Bowl XXVII by making two touchdowns on receptions in the span of just fifteen seconds, leading the Cowboys to a 52-17 romp of the Buffalo Bills. Following the team's second storybook season, owner Jerry Jones shocked the sports world by announcing the firing of Johnson. Irvin, who was personally close to his coach, was livid and demanded to be traded. Yet in the end, he decided to remain committed to his teammates and stay in Dallas.
Hopes for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl ring following the 1994 season were dashed when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cowboys, 38-28, in the National Football Conference championship. Irvin had outdone himself in the game, catching twelve passes for 192 yards, setting new championship game records, but the devastated wide receiver was crying on the sidelines at the end of the game. Despite his legendary showboating, winning, not personal glory, was his main objective.
Irvin posted the best statistics of his career in 1995, catching 111 passes for 1,603 yards and ten touchdowns. His eight straight 100-yard games and eleven 100-yard games overall tied the NFL records. Irvin's numbers take on added significance considering many teams tried to stop him, or at least slow him down, with double coverage. Although it wasn't a perfect season for the Cowboys, the team's 12-4 record carried them easily into the playoffs, where they won a record third Super Bowl in four years by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17.