Originally created 07/11/00

Cowboys' Irvin to retire



IRVING, Texas -- The spinal injury that ended Michael Irvin's 1999 season has forced the Dallas Cowboys' receiver into retirement.

The announcement, which has been expected for months, will become official with a news conference today at Texas Stadium. It comes a month after longtime teammate Daryl Johnston also called it a career because of a neck injury and a week before Dallas opens training camp.

Great hands made Irvin one of the best receivers in NFL history and a loud mouth made him one of the game's great showboats.

Irvin loved taunting opponents with an exaggerated first-down motion after a big catch. He made enough big catches that he was nicknamed "the Playmaker," a moniker he proudly had printed on his license plate.

Along with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, Irvin led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span. Fans argued over which "triplet" was the most important, yet it was understood that each enhanced the others.

Irvin finished his 12-year career with 750 catches, tied for ninth in NFL history, for 11,904 yards, also ninth all-time. He holds nearly every major career or single-season receiving record in Cowboys history.

His insight and personality will help Irvin well in his next career. The 34-year-old is expected to announce plans to go into broadcasting.

For all his on-field accomplishments, Irvin also will be remembered for some serious off-field incidents.

In 1996, Irvin was arrested in a motel-room drug bust in the wee hours of his 30th birthday. He pleaded no contest to a felony drug charge that summer and received 800 hours of community service and four years of probation, which was lifted last Thursday, 10 days early.

Irvin also was suspended by the NFL for five games. His image and the team's were seriously tarnished and he lost most of his endorsements.

Months later, Irvin was falsely accused of sexually assault. At training camp in 1998, Irvin was involved in "Scissorsgate" when he cut the neck of a teammate during a playful scuffle prior to a haircut.

Irvin followed that with a down year in 1998, catching a career-low one touchdown pass as then-coach Chan Gailey reduced his role in the offense.

His future in Dallas was questioned going into 1999, but Irvin turned a hot topic into a non-issue by working hard and saying all the right things. Then, on Oct. 10 in Philadelphia, he suffered the most serious injury of his career.

On a tackle following a reception, Irvin awkwardly slammed his head into the hard turf of Veterans Stadium and was temporarily paralyzed.

Tests revealed that he sustained a herniated disc, but they also detected that Irvin was born with a narrow spinal cord. That genetic condition became his primary concern because it puts him at a much higher risk of serious injury if he takes another blow to the head or neck.

The Cowboys have been preparing for life without Irvin ever since. In February, they acquired receiver Joey Galloway from Seattle.

Irvin never had the speed Galloway has, but he beat defenders to the ball using smarts and size.

He took advantage of his 6-foot-2, 207-pound frame to screen cornerbacks, especially on the quick slant that was the trademark play for Irvin and Aikman. On deeper passes, Irvin often stretched the rules of contact by swatting away defenders' arms.

In addition to his three Super Bowl titles in Dallas, Irvin won a national championship in college at Miami, his hometown.

Irvin was the final first-round pick by Tom Landry. Dallas took him with the 11th overall pick in 1988 and a year later he was reunited with his college coach, Jimmy Johnson. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl following the '92, '93 and '95 seasons.