Cowboys, Irvin get their wish Miami receiver Dallas' top pick

Tuesday, July 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Gary Myers / The Dallas Morning News

Editors note: The following is a re-print of The Dallas Morning News article from the day after Irvin was drafted by the Cowboys.

Michael Irvin, the enthusiastic, outspoken and talented wide receiver from the University of Miami, began Sunday at the top of the Cowboys' draft board. He ended the day in Dallas. And that made the day for Irvin and the Cowboys.

"Not only was he in our first five," Cowboys president Tex Schramm said, "he was on top of our first five in the total draft. I am delighted beyond words."

The Cowboys owe a thank-you to the New York Giants, of all people. Dallas had tried unsuccessfully to move up with several teams from the 11th spot to get Irvin, even offering Tony Dorsett. But the asking price of a No. 2 pick was too high, the Cowboys decided.

The Rams, picking 14th, tried to get to the Giants' spot at No. 10, one before the Cowboys, but New York didn't want to take the chance of losing Indiana tackle Eric Moore and refused to make the trade.

Never before had the Cowboys been able to get who they claim was their top-rated player without moving up, as they did in 1977 with Dorsett.

"I'll be playing for the team with the star on the helmet," Irvin said. "That describes what kind of player I am."

And to get Irvin with the 11th pick Sunday left the Cowboys ecstatic, if not Super Bowl bound. "This accelerates our return to the living," Schramm said. "Maybe the luck is changing."

In one shot, coach Tom Landry says, Irvin should: Be a starter when the season opens Sept. 4 in Pittsburgh -- provided he doesn't hold out -- and pick up for Mike Sherrard, whose football future is in doubt after he re-fractured his right leg jogging on a beach in February. Landry said Irvin was rated higher than Sherrard was when Sherrard was the Cowboys' No. 1 pick in 1986. And Landry said the Cowboys would not have had a losing season had Sherrard played last year. That says a lot about what they think of Irvin, a key to Miami's national championship last season.

"We needed a wide receiver of his caliber," Landry said. "We feel like he will fit into our program very well. We were a little bit nervous that he might not have been there because the Rams had showed interest in moving up to get him."

The Cowboys helped the defense in the second round by taking UCLA linebacker Ken Norton Jr., the son of the former heavyweight champion, and went back to offense in the third and fourth rounds with Oklahoma guard Mark Hutson and Boston College tackle Dave Widell, closing out the first day. The Cowboys traded their fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks last summer for offensive tackle Ron Essink, who retired before the season. The Cowboys will move Norton from the inside linebacker spot he played in UCLA's 3-4 defense to the strongside outside spot behind Mike Hegman. It's the fifth time in the last seven years they have taken an outside linebacker in the first two rounds.

The Cowboys haven't come close to finding a great player with the first four of Jeff Rohrer, Mike Walter, Billy Cannon or Jesse Penn. "We figured the odds were with us," Landry said. He added it was doubtful Norton could begin the season as a starter, "but he has the capability of starting sometime during the season."

And, finally, after so many miserable years on NFL draft day -- Rod Hill, Walter, etc. -- in the 1980s, the Cowboys indeed did catch a break -- in the first round, at least. And after failing to move up and fearful Irvin would not make it to their pick, the Cowboys waited.


After Green Bay took South Carolina receiver Sterling Sharpe with the No. 7 choice, the Cowboys prayed Irvin would get past the Jets, Raiders and the Giants, who were listening to trade offers.

The Jets considered Irvin and turned down the Rams, too, taking tackle Dave Cadigan. The Raiders, who three picks before took wide receiver Tim Brown, were obviously not going to take Irvin , as well, instead going with cornerback Terry McDaniel.

Now came the sweating. "I probably lost 10 pounds," Cowboys vice president Gil Brandt said.

The Rams, picking 14th, wanted Irvin. They had been talking to the Giants for the last few days about exchanging picks. When the Giants were up, however, general manager George Young called the Rams and Vikings, who wanted to move up from No. 19, and told them they were staying put. They wanted Moore.

"We felt so strongly about him, we didn't feel we could wait," Young said. "I wasn't even thinking about the Cowboys. We knew they wanted Irvin. We had to worry about our team first."

That allowed the Cowboys to take Irvin, which seemed unlikely when the draft began. After the New York-Dallas draft controversies the last two years concerning Sherrard and Stephen Baker, it's a strange twist that the Giants did the Cowboys a favor.

And Irvin (6-2, 198), who runs 4.55 for the 40 and has been compared to San Francisco's Jerry Rice, was probably happier than the Cowboys. He's more of an intermediate receiver than a flyer such as Sherrard, but he's extremely dangerous after the catch.

A hot dog? No, said Irvin, "If you say I'm a very confident player, I'll say yes."

Irvin said the Rams and Packers each called Sunday. "Green Bay called back, and we wouldn't answer the phone," he said from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I was sweating. Somebody in my family said, 'Mike, you're sweating now, but if you go to Green Bay, it will be the last time you sweat.' I thought, "Oh my God, I'm going to have to trade in my BMW for a snowmobile." Irvin became eligible for the draft as a fourth-year junior because he will graduate on time in May. Before Irvin made his decision to give up the final year of his eligibility, Brandt, as a favor to Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, tried to convince Irvin to return. But Irvin, one of 17 children, was ready to start playing for pay. The only risk for the Cowboys is if he doesn't graduate. No problem, Irvin said. "I have six courses and my average is high enough that even if I get all Ds, I will still graduate, he said.

He had an outstanding college career in a pro-style passing offense. Playing with Vinny Testaverde his freshman and sophomore years, Irvin caught 99 passes for 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns.