Federal investigators and local police broke down the door of an apartment in the 3600 block of Timberglen Road about 4:30 p.m. to arrest a woman wanted in connection with a heroin investigation, Dallas police Lt. Danny Davis said. That woman was not home, but her sister and Mr. Irvin were inside, Lt. Davis said.
"It was by chance that we came across Michael Irvin," said Special Agent Lori Bailey, an FBI spokeswoman.
Mr. Irvin and the woman, Nelly Adham, 21, of Dallas had "a small amount" of marijuana and also may have had some cocaine, Agent Bailey said. They were charged with marijuana possession and booked into the Plano City Jail, police said.
Officer Carl Duke, a Plano police spokesman, said marijuana was found on Mr. Irvin.
Ms. Adham, who listed her occupation as travel agent, could not be reached for comment. She had not been arraigned as of late Wednesday.
About 30 fans and neighbors cheered as Mr. Irvin walked out of the jail about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday.
"I really don't know what went on," Mr. Irvin said, adding that police were looking for someone else. He declined to comment further.
Mr. Irvin said that he was not smoking marijuana and that he "didn't even know the girl they were looking for."
The crowd continued to cheer as Mr. Irvin left in a white Lincoln Navigator. Mr. Irvin later returned to the jail to retrieve his cell phone.
As he was leaving for the second time, Mattie Brooks of Plano ran up near Mr. Irvin's car and yelled, "I love you, Michael."
"I think he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," Ms. Brooks said. "People should just give him a chance to clear himself."
Last month, Mr. Irvin, 34, announced his retirement from professional football. Fox Sports said a few days later that Mr. Irvin would work as an analyst on a Sunday-morning cable show focusing on the NFL.
On a police custody report, Mr. Irvin listed his occupation as broadcaster and his employer as Fox.
"We don't yet have all the facts, and until we do, we have no comment," Fox Sports vice president Lou D'Ermilio said Wednesday.
Mr. Irvin faces a class B misdemeanor charge, police said. That level of offense can be punished by up to six months in jail and a fine of as much as $2,000.
The arrest came just weeks after he was able to close the book on his previous drug troubles. His monthly appointments with a probation officer ended July 6 â€“ four years after he pleaded no contest to cocaine possession. A probation violation could have triggered a 20-year prison sentence.
The warrant being served Wednesday was part of an ongoing federal-local investigation called "Operation Mockingbird." The operation was initiated after the death of Mark Tuinei, another former Cowboy who overdosed on heroin last year in Plano.
In May, 17 suspected heroin and cocaine dealers were arrested on conspiracy charges. They were accused of operating a pair of drug rings that supplied the fatal doses to Mr. Tuinei, among others.
Officer Duke said Wednesday's arrest warrant "had nothing to do with the Tuinei investigation."
Mr. Irvin is one of the most accomplished NFL wide receivers in history and played on three Super Bowl championship teams over his 12-year career with the Cowboys. His retirement prompted discussion about his possible induction into the Hall of Fame.
Several members of the Cowboys organization urged the news media and fans not to condemn Mr. Irvin before hearing all of the facts. Members of the coaching staff shook their heads in disbelief after hearing the news.
"It just deflates me," Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano said. "It just makes me numb. You can't help but love the guy. You just want him to do good."
Members of the Cowboys public-relations department informed players about the arrest as they left practice.
"It's a shame," linebacker Darren Hambrick said. "You would think that he didn't make a bad decision like that, but when you see the FBI and stuff like that, that doesn't look good. I'm still pretty sure everything is in order, but you never want those accusations, especially with the profession he was going into. ... It's bad because we really don't know what happened."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reacted to the news by saying: "I don't know anything about it. We'll take a look at it. I just would remind us all that Michael has been a victim of false allegations before. ... I'm going to be very sensitive, very careful about how I come to any conclusions."
Mr. Jones was referring to a 1996 incident in which a female friend of Mr. Irvin's accused him of holding a gun to her head while Cowboys teammate Erik Williams raped her. Nina Shahravan recanted her allegation less than two weeks later. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge and served 90 days in jail.
That came on the heels of Mr. Irvin's prior arrest on drug charges and fueled a frenzy of negative publicity surrounding his involvement with exotic dancers and illegal drugs â€“ as well as possible witness tampering.
About the same time, details of a bizarre murder-for-hire plot against the football star were revealed. Dallas police Officer Johnnie HernÃ¡ndez was charged with hiring a hit man to kill Mr. Irvin because the football player had allegedly threatened his girlfriend, Rachelle Marie Smith. Ms. Smith was an exotic dancer who was scheduled to testify against Mr. Irvin in his drug trial. Mr. HernÃ¡ndez pleaded guilty to solicitation of capital murder and was released from prison in December 1998 after serving 21/2 years.
Shortly after Wednesday's arrest, neighbors gathered near the third-floor apartment. Apartment resident Bryan Boatright, 29, said he saw police start arriving at the apartment about 4:15 p.m. and then bring Mr. Irvin down about 6 p.m.
"As they were coming down the stairs, Michael Irvin's head was down," Mr. Boatright said. "I could hear him shouting from the [FBI] car window."
Mr. Boatright said he couldn't hear what Mr. Irvin said. He and other residents said that they've frequently seen Mr. Irvin's car at the complex but that they didn't know whom he was visiting.
Investigators said they chose to take Mr. Irvin and Ms. Adham to the Plano jail because it was convenient.
Mr. Irvin became synonymous with the Cowboys' return to glory in the 1990s. He joined quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith to form one of the NFL's most potent offensive troikas. They led the Cowboys to Super Bowl titles in 1992, 1993 and 1995.
He finished his career ranked among the NFL's top 10 in yards and catches. He also tied for third all-time with seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and 47 100-yard games.
Staff writers Kendall Anderson, Dave Michaels, Wendy Hundley, Bill Nichols, Kim Horner, Jean-Jacques Taylor and Barry Horn contributed to this report.