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Irvin not one of the fastest, but one of the best

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The first time I saw Michael Irvin was late in the 1985 season. I was down in Miami watching a Thursday practice prior to the Hurricanes' game against Notre Dame that Saturday. And when I saw No. 47 running circles around Miami's defensive backs, I turned to then-Miami coach Jimmy Johnson and said, "Who is that guy?"

 

"That guy" was Michael Irvin, and even though he was just a redshirt freshman in 1985, you could see he had great talent. I developed a friendship with Michael over the next two years and then had the good fortune to draft him with the Dallas Cowboys in 1988.

 

NFL / Getty
Gil Brandt first noticed Michael Irvin as a sophomore at Miami. The Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft.

We had Irvin as the fourth overall player on the Dallas draft board - Tim Brown, Bennie Blades and Keith Jackson were the three players we rated ahead of him. As it turned out, Irvin was still available when it was our turn to pick at No. 11. We didn't hesitate.

 

Not only was Irvin one of 12 players from Miami to be drafted that year, but two other Hurricane receivers - Brian Blades and Brett Perriman - were drafted in the second round. Over the course of their NFL careers, Irvin, Blades and Perriman combined to catch nearly 1,900 passes in 470 combined games.

 

Irvin had the Cowboys over a barrel when we drafted him. Since he had only played three seasons in college and was just shy of earning his degree, he had the option of going back to school for a fourth year of eligibility. Fortunately for Dallas, he stayed.

 

After we drafted Irvin, he arrived in Dallas to meet the media. Head coach Tom Landry was in my office -- we were still drafting. There was a life-size cardboard cutout of Coach Landry in my office, and I'll never forget the image of Irvin walking in, putting his arm around the cutout, and saying, "This is my daddy for the next 12 years!"

 

The reason Irvin didn't go higher in the draft was because he was not regarded as a burner. But here's the thing: whatever Irvin ran in shorts, he ran just as well in pads because he was very, very strong.

 

Any questions about Irvin's speed were answered quickly in his first training camp. Dallas had a scrimmage against the Oakland Raiders, and on the very first series, Irvin lined up wide against fellow rookie cornerback Terry McDaniel, who happened to be the ninth overall pick in the draft. Irvin ran a little stutter-step past McDaniel and yelled "Gotcha!" as he blew past him for the long touchdown. That play set the stage for the flamboyant career Irvin was to enjoy.

 

Of course, it wasn't all about the numbers for Irvin. He caught 750 passes, but his career touchdown total was lower than you'd expect (65) because the Cowboys under Jimmy Johnson rarely threw play-action in the red zone. When they were inside the 10, the ball always went to Emmitt Smith.

 

But that just emphasizes another aspect of Irvin's game that made him a Hall of Famer. He was a tremendous blocker in the running game, and he certainly deserves some of the credit for helping Smith become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

 

Still, Irvin retired as the holder of 12 all-time team receiving records and tied for two others. Irvin played his last game on Oct. 10, 1999 vs. the Eagles when he suffered a career-ending injury while making his 750th career reception. To show his importance, Dallas lost its next three games without Irvin and faded from playoff contention.

 

Did You Know…
Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas are the first players from the 1988 draft class to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Irvin is the fourth player born in the state of Florida and the fourth player from the University of Miami-Fla. to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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