By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
She never mentioned it again.
Sandy says she felt a surge of strength inside her. "The arguing and all that," she explains today, "none of it works. This was something that God had to do. I knew that. And it was so amazing, because when the anger was there, Michael wasn't around. And when he came around, I had nothing but love for him. You understand?"
Sandy shared her struggles with Irvin's mother, who'd become close to her. And across the country, in the dream house her superstar son had bought her in Plantation, Florida, Pearl Irvin took a day to despair over her "baby," something she seldom allowed herself as mother of 15. "When this first happened, that really got next to me," Pearl recalls. "But I went in my room, and I prayed. I took Michael's picture, I put my hand on it, and I got down on my knees.
"And God told me, the battle is mine."
At the Dallas County courthouse, there was another kind of fight. Irvin's case was set to go before the grand jury, and prosecutors refused to cut a deal with The Playmaker. Not the one he wanted, anyway. Veteran prosecutor Mike Gillett recalls meeting with Irvin and one of his attorneys and flashing a bit of the evidence that would come out at trial: Irvin's greasy fingerprints, for example, on a plate of cocaine. The trial, which started in late June, would yield many more excruciating glimpses of the Michael Irvin lifestyle: the lesbian sex show, the orgies, the collection of "very curious sex toys," as then-columnist Laura Miller wrote in an Observer report.
Irvin's team hoped to bust down the charge to misdemeanor possession, but Gillett wasn't buying it, calling that "special treatment." According to Irvin, the conversation got downright nasty. "He just had a really bad attitude," Irvin says of Gillett. "He said, 'Listen, you're a piece of sh_ _, and what I'm going to do, I'm going to ruin you; I'm going to fillet you like a fish and leave you in the alley. I'm going to bring out all your dirty laundry.'"
Gillett, who has since retired, said, "I have absolutely no recollection of that."
Irvin recalls that he had his sharp tongue at the ready.
"I said, 'In a few months, when this case is over, somebody else will pay me 3 or 4 million dollars to catch a football. So really, you're not going to ruin me. This is my first offense.'"
Well, what's a Playmaker to do? Irvin racked his addled head and came up with a comeback for the ages.
The mink coat.
Irvin gets a laugh now from his big screw-you statement on the day of the grand-jury hearing. He showed up in court dripping in dead weasels, having donned a shimmering, black floor-length number and sunglasses. "All night I was thinking, I'll get him back--how will I get him back?" Irvin says. "And my ignorance said, wear your mink. Have your mink on with the shades and walk right through the crowd. They'll be talking about the mink more than anything else. And boy, did they talk about that mink. That was wild, man. That was crazy. That was stupidity."
The trial that summer was, as promised, a parade of tawdry allegations, complete with a B-movie subplot when one witness' boyfriend--a Dallas cop, no less--tried to enlist an undercover agent to kill Irvin.
All of Dallas, it seems, was disgusted by the sleaze. But not Irvin. "No, I was The Man. That made me The Man," he says. "I was in there; I was enmeshed."
Before it reached the jury, Irvin and his attorneys struck a deal that netted Irvin four years of probation, including 800 hours of community service, in exchange for a no-contest plea. Irvin, repentant to his family but still defiant on the outside, held a news conference in which he promised to be a better man, a better husband.
He vowed to himself to stop the partying and womanizing.
That lasted, oh, about a week.
Deion Sanders had found Jesus, and that was the pits. Irvin's fast-living buddy went to the other extreme, proclaiming his faith loudly and obnoxiously--in the media, in the locker room, in the ears of anyone who'd listen. Irvin razzed him at first. "I used to kill him in the locker room," Irvin says. "Straight kill him. I used to mess with him to prove that he was not that. See, it was my spirit crying."
When that didn't work, Irvin backed off from his party pal.
Sanders just bided his time. And Irvin was there one day at his friend's house in early '99, when Sanders' spiritual mentor, Bishop T.D. Jakes, a big man himself, physically cornered The Playmaker in the bathroom.
"God's working on you, man," Jakes said. "I'm telling you, Michael, you need to come on in. Come on in before something real crazy happens to you."