Cowboys' Irvin to retire

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

Receiver a key to Super' teams

IRVING – Michael Irvin will announce his retirement Tuesday, becoming the first member of the superstar triumvirate that returned the Dallas Cowboys to their perch among the National Football League's elite franchises to end his playing career.

The Cowboys have scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference at the Stadium Club at Texas Stadium to celebrate Mr. Irvin's illustrious 12-year career.

Mr. Irvin, 33, who finishes his career ranked among the NFL's top 10 in yards and catches, teamed with quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith to form one of the NFL's most potent offensive troikas in the '90s. Together, they led the Cowboys to Super Bowl titles in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

He finished tied for third all-time with seven 1,000-yard seasons and 47 100-yard games. Mr. Irvin's career, though, was marked with controversy.

His touchdown gyrations and first-down celebrations angered some opponents and fans, but it was off-the-field issues that made him a linchpin for controversy. In April 1996, Mr. Irvin was discovered in an Irving hotel room with two self-employed models, teammate Alfredo Roberts and cocaine. He pleaded no contest to cocaine possession and completed a four-year probation. The NFL suspended him for the first five games of the season for conduct detrimental to the league.

In coach Chan Gailey's first training camp before the 1998 season, Mr. Irvin was involved in a fight with offensive lineman Everett McIver that resulted in Mr. McIver sustaining a 6-inch gash on his neck after being cut with a pair of scissors.

Still, in a few years, Mr. Irvin will probably be rewarded with a bust marking his membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A Dallas Morning News survey last season of more than a third of the Hall of Fame voters indicated that Mr. Irvin's statistics and Super Bowl rings should overshadow his on-field theatrics and off-the-field troubles.

"It shouldn't even be a question of whether he's in the Hall of Fame," Mr. Smith said last season. "Look at his numbers. Look at his rings.

"The only thing that matters is what he did on the field. The off-the-field stuff doesn't matter. If the voters start taking that into account, then they have to look into their own hearts and question their integrity."

Mr. Irvin's announcement has been expected for months, though an NFL spokesman said Mr. Irvin has yet to submit his retirement papers to the NFL. He has been pursuing jobs as a football analyst and is expected to sign a contract soon.

When contacted, owner Jerry Jones declined to comment until Tuesday. Mr. Irvin could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Irvin, the 11th pick overall in the 1988 draft, joins former fullback Daryl Johnston as the second high-profile member of the Cowboys to retire this off-season. A herniated disk in his neck forced Mr. Johnston to retire last month.

Neither ended his career on his own terms.

Mr. Irvin sustained a season-ending neck injury Oct. 10 against Philadelphia, when his head was jammed into the artificial surface at Veterans Stadium after catching the ball on his trademark route – a slant – in the first quarter.

Mr. Irvin sustained swelling of the spinal cord on the play, and doctors later discovered he has a congenital condition – a narrow spinal column – that could lead to a catastrophic injury if he has another neck injury. While a narrow spinal column doesn't increase the risk of injury, it can increase the severity when an injury does occur.

Mr. Irvin has not spoken publicly about his plans after football since the season ended.

In fact, he has been conspicuous by his absence at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex. During his career, Mr. Irvin was known for long hours in the weight room and for hanging out at the team's complex.

Many of his teammates, though, have not spoken to him since the season ended. Few have seen him at the complex. At the team's minicamp three weeks ago, Mr. Jones said he had not spoken to Mr. Irvin since Mr. Aikman's wedding in April. Mr. Aikman and Mr. Smith also said it had been months since they had talked to Mr. Irvin. In the weeks after his injury, Mr. Irvin spent some days watching practice with the media from sidelines, where he often talked rhetorically about making the adjustment from professional athlete to average Joe.

Instead of spending his days preparing for the next opponent, Mr. Irvin said he spent many mornings at his son's preschool, singing songs and reading stories to the children.

Despite catching only 78 passes for a little more than 1,300 yards in his first three seasons, Mr. Irvin ends his career as one of the best receivers in NFL history.

Mr. Irvin, who owns or has tied 20 club records, including nearly every major or career record, had his best season in 1995. He caught 111 passes for 1,603 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also tied the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games with seven.

He was even better in the Cowboys' most important games.

In 16 playoff games, Mr. Irvin had six 100-yard games.