Back in Bounds

Michael Irvin, once the Cowboys' playmaker, has quit playing around and has turned himself over to his maker

And who would turn up there in August 2000 but Michael Irvin?

Irvin insists he's never used heroin; he went there strictly for sex, with another young woman who was later questioned by police. Irvin says he was sitting on the toilet when cops broke down the apartment door one afternoon. They cuffed Irvin behind his back and left him on the floor naked for several hours while they searched the apartment. After some rooting around, they found their prize: half a roach, which they pinned on Irvin.

He'd just cleared probation for the 1996 offense; he'd just got a job; he blew it again. Fox didn't waste any time getting rid of him.

Cowboys boss Jerry Jones was understandably upset as he escorted a temporarily paralyzed Irvin into an ambulance during a Philadelphia Eagles game in 1999.
AP/Wide World
Cowboys boss Jerry Jones was understandably upset as he escorted a temporarily paralyzed Irvin into an ambulance during a Philadelphia Eagles game in 1999.
Irvin sounded repentant at his 1996 news conference after pleading no contest to drug possession. His wife, Sandy, and their baby are at his side. The new attitude wouldn't stick.
AP/Wide World
Irvin sounded repentant at his 1996 news conference after pleading no contest to drug possession. His wife, Sandy, and their baby are at his side. The new attitude wouldn't stick.

Irvin was ashamed, even though he says the marijuana cigarette wasn't his, and the charge was eventually dropped. (Irvin says a DNA test of his saliva cleared him. Plus, he says, if it were his joint, he would have smoked it.)

He'd finally begun suspecting he couldn't stop on his own. If God had him on a short leash, he thought, someone was yanking it real hard.

He knew that for sure after he'd promised to come home to his wife on the eve of Valentine's Day 2001, and instead found himself picking up "baaad" girls at Cuba Libre and partying all night.

Sandy Irvin tells the rest of the story. "It was getting to the point where he would come home and say that's it, I'm not doing this anymore," she says.

She would sometimes shock him after nights he'd spent away from home, getting high, by walking up and embracing him. "He would cry in my arms," she says, "and that's when I knew it was something that he couldn't handle--more of an addiction."

Irvin walked in the door the next day, and he didn't try to explain it all away. "You know what, baby, can we just go to a hotel and talk?" he asked his wife. "I know I'm too late for dinner and all that. We can order room service; I just want to talk to you. Can you bring your Bible?"

Sandy wasn't quite sure what to think; they'd been down this path before. They left their children with Sandy's sister and checked into the Hotel Inter-Continental Dallas, where they talked and read the Bible together.

After several hours, Sandy drifted off to sleep. "I'd wake up," she says, "and he was on his knees or reading the Bible in the middle of the night."

Still, Sandy wasn't overly impressed. "We'd had a lot of nights like that in the past, but Michael wasn't serious."

It would be a few days before she knew something had truly changed. The next Sunday, Irvin got up and dressed for church without her.

During that morning's sermon at The Potter's House, Michael says it felt like Jakes was preaching right at him as he sat in the front row of the huge sanctuary. "Come in out of the rain," he said. "God told me to tell you today is your day..."

"That was the sign for me to get my butt up there," Irvin says. "I ran to that altar."


"That's why it's a godly love," Irvin says. "It's God loving me through her. How else could she have stayed?"

Michael Irvin was on his way to the 8 a.m. service at The Potter's House two Sundays ago, and he pulled up at a gas station in his black Mercedes to hand over a copy of his videotaped testimony.

As he stood beside the car, he offered this bit of advice: "Now don't forget the drugs. That's part of the story, too. Not to mention it would take away from what God's done in my life."

I know I was squinting in disbelief, trying to remember the last time an interview subject reminded me to get all the dirt in. There was no last time.

The tape itself is brief, a few minutes of Irvin talking to the camera, then a clip from a 2001 revival meeting at The Potter's House. Some of it would later be featured on Jakes' early-morning religious talk show, The Potter's Touch. In that segment, Jakes walks Michael and Sandy Irvin through their courtship, their troubled marriage, their reconciliation. A Potter's House spokesman says it's one of the show's most highly requested episodes, and Sandy says people have stopped her in the street as far away as New York, telling her how much the show affected them.

Irvin's testimony has caused a similar stir. It isn't the words themselves, which are plain and sometimes halting, and it isn't the suit--a red-satin ensemble that'll make Irvin's kids cringe some day. It's his transparency, the word that seems to come up in every conversation about the new Michael Irvin.

Jakes agrees. "I've seen a tremendous transformation since his conversion," he says. "If he's in town, he's generally in Bible class. I've seen Michael become much more focused on his family. You almost get a feeling of seeing him with his wife and kids as if he is redeeming the time, making up for weekends away.

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