Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The Dallas Cowboys' All-Pro carouser, Michael Irvin, tries to walk the straight and narrow
Number 88 is slashing through a Green Bay Packers secondary, evading hapless defenders who fall headlong just as he slips from their grasp. Someone snags a tiny piece of jersey, and soon his shoulder pads are out and flapping as he makes a cut and throws his long body into the end zone.
Michael Irvin is transfixed by the overhead video screen at Texas Stadium. "Do I look fine in my uniform!" he says, with a cocky little jerk of the head.
Six years after his retirement from football--the result of a frightening neck injury in Philadelphia, with Eagles fans cheering as he lay motionless on the field--Irvin still shows traces of the guy who'd throw down boasts about everything from his reputation as the Dallas Cowboys' "Playmaker" to his predilection for "'hos, limos and Pappadeaux."
All of that would change. Irvin bottomed out; the whoring and partying for which he was notorious became joyless habits. He'd gone on trial for cocaine possession in 1996 (he got probation); he'd been busted by the cops in 2000 while he was with another woman. His wife, Sandy, was hanging in there with him, but he felt powerless to break away from his lifestyle. He would end up at the altar of the renowned Bishop T.D. Jakes in February 2001, during a sermon with a pleading refrain, "Come in from the rain."
Like his buddy Deion Sanders before him, he'd turned to Jesus.
I met Irvin in August 2002, when he eschewed a lemon in his ice water because he didn't want people to confuse it with an early-morning cocktail. He'd begun a broadcasting career with Fox, and the same passion he applied to football was evident in his sessions with a speech and diction coach and his raucous laughter on the set of BDSSP--that's what he called it, anyway. He didn't want to say the word "damn," as in Best Damn Sports Show Period.
Last week, as the former All-Pro wide receiver appeared at Texas Stadium for his induction into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor alongside 1990s greats Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, Irvin was his ebullient self, laughing, gripping and walking around in a sleek gray suit with his characteristic swagger. He signed autographs, posed for cell phone pictures and was unfalteringly gracious to the fans, Texas Stadium employees, reporters and guys in wheelchairs who followed him everywhere like an entourage on a scorching day that heated up the playing field to what seemed like 150 degrees.
Irvin sat beside his fellow Triplets at the on-field set for ESPN, his broadcasting gig these days. There's no pretending with these guys; they obviously get along great. While they were joking on-air, musing about the upcoming Ring of Honor ceremony, Cowboys wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson warmed up on the field. Thoughts of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss flashed in my mind: Here are three prodigiously gifted receivers who seem to play for a team of one.
Nothing like the Michael Irvin we knew. Crazy as he was off the field, Irvin was a total team guy, and unlike Owens and Moss, he always got along with his quarterback. At a brief news conference earlier in the evening, he told a story from his rookie year about meeting Cowboys great Drew Pearson, who asked him if he could identify the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. The answer at the time, of course, was Pearson. "I really didn't know," Irvin said. "And I said in my brash, ignorant way, "I don't know who it is, Drew, but I know who it will be in about 10 years.'" Former Coach Jimmy Johnson credited Irvin, in fact, with sparking the team turnaround that would ultimately lead to the Super Bowl. To the three-time champion Cowboys of the 1990s, Irvin brought the killer attitude.
About an hour before kickoff, a weary Irvin retired to the office of a Cowboys executive. Fans were literally pressing against the glass doors of the administrative suites, but here he could escape for a few minutes.
Hunched in a worn leather chair, he seemed merely life-size. He spoke quietly about his faith; when he talks about God, all the bluster and bragging drains away. He's still hanging on to Jesus four years after his very public conversion; he's replaced "chasing, running around" with "chasing the best father I can be, chasing the best husband I can be," he said.
Irvin still attends Bishop Jakes' church, The Potter's House, every Sunday in the off-season. And while life after football has yielded its share of disappointments, Irvin credited Jakes for helping him adjust to the "real world," as he called it. "The football world is all about we're a team, we are together," he said. "In the business world, there is no team. You have to be careful. In the football world, I had a promise from a man, and it meant a lot. In this world, promises mean nothing."
Sanders is still pulling for him, too; the former teammates talk regularly. "He calls me at 10 o'clock in the evening," Irvin said, "and he knows I'm on the road, and I'm not answering my phone. "Adam, where art thou? I'll call heaven.' And he'll break off in a sermon on the phone.
"We just mess around with each other," he said. "We have accountability with each other, and you need that. You need somebody that you're going to be naked with."
Talking with him in this rare quiet moment, Irvin offered that he's not all he's cracked up to be. People expect a spiritual All-Pro and dog him for every misstep; he's hanging on to Jesus, he'll tell you, because it's the sick who need a doctor.
"He sustained me. I've been doing fine," he said. "But I'm not perfect. It's a funny thing, when you go around and tell people you're saved, they say, "You're no greater than me.' I didn't say that. I just said that I'm saved.
"I know that I'm no better than you." --Julie Lyons
Not far from the Hampton Road exit off Interstate 30, Stevens Municipal Golf Course is a step back into the genteel yesteryear of North Oak Cliff. Opened in 1922, Stevens is a mature course with gentle hills, lots of trees and some nice holes. It's not too long and not too hard, but it's not easy, either. Sure, it hasn't been recently redesigned like Tenison Highlands and Cedar Crest, but it also still has greens fees of $16, as opposed to $21 at Cedar Crest and $34 at Tenison. For the regulars, Stevens has the comfortable feel of a really good pair of old golf shoes--high quality, but full of forgiveness.
Tenison Highlands Golf Course 3501 Samuell Blvd. 214-670-1402
We would've given this award to Shawn Bradley, but he remains 7 feet, 6 inches of suck. Besides, in a season in which he lost his head coach and best friend, Dirk Nowitzki found his spot among the NBA's elite. With longtime teammate Steve Nash in Phoenix and the only coach he'd ever known (Don Nelson) in retirement, Dirk led the Mavericks to a 58-24 record and the second round of the playoffs. A 7-footer able to both ram dunks and rain 3-pointers, Nowitzki finished in the top 10 in almost every offensive category and became the first Maverick named to the All-NBA First Team, meaning he is one of the five best basketball players on the planet. In other news, the Mavericks and the Dallas Observer are both 25 years old. Coincidence? Or merely a shameless plug tying us to anything remotely successful in Dallas? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Skating? On blades? Outdoors? We think not. If you like your wheels rented and aerosol spray-sanitized, your venue air-conditioned and neon-lit and your décor similar to that place where you once showed off your backward skating moves during "Rock Me Amadeus," then What's Hot Fun World is the place to be. There's a strong kitsch factor with the rink's shiny, colored woods and a new but totally '80s theme with a purple/red/yellow color scheme and flames. But there's more. Those roller derby chicks dig it: The Texas Rollergirls from Austin competed at the rink in March and Assassination City Roller Derby played its premiere bout there in July. What's Hot Fun World also offers dollar skate sessions, birthday parties and themes such as teen dance and family day. It's skating the (kinda) old-fashioned way.
White Rock Lake
Stay with us. Because you'll be pissed in a second, but...trading Steve Nash was a good thing. Yes, we remember Nash dropping 39 on the Mavericks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. We remember the three he hit with 5.9 seconds left, which sent the game to overtime, which sent the Mavericks home for the summer. But to paraphrase Senator John McCain (another Arizonan, and only a coincidence that he's included here), sometimes you must think of a cause greater than your own. Nash changed the NBA in 2005. Scoring across the league was up because of that little Canadian. Suddenly, Indiana, Boston--every team with a fast point guard, and even some without (that's you, Jamal Tinsley, you chubby)--wanted in on the Suns secret, which was no secret at all: Fast break points still win games. True, in San Antonio, defense still wins championships. But soon, an NBA team will run like the Suns and defend like the Spurs and pro basketball will be, from season's start to season's end, watchable again. And we'll have Steve Nash to thank for it.
University of Texas wins the Rose Bowl
Sincere apologies to those--you whack-jobs know who you are--who read the header and revved up your testosterone in anticipation of some freaky trifecta featuring Jessica Simpson/Amber Campisi/Laura Miller. (Lonely, lustful and longing for lost admiration, they met eyes at a shiny new homeless shelter...) Trust us, when that happens we'll be on top of it. Sorta. This award instead goes to the legendary Cowboys "triplets" of the '90s. Since they're responsible for 63,201 combined yards, 414 touchdowns and almost every big play that led the Cowboys to three Super Bowls in four years, it would have been criminal to induct them into the Ring of Honor separately. Did Aikman's pinpoint passing soften defenses and open holes for Emmitt? Or was it Emmitt's consistency on the ground that allowed Irvin the luxury of man-to-man coverage? Now that they have their proper place in Cowboys' lore, the debates can go to NFL's highest court: the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jay Novacek, RIP. Finally. In the eight looong years since the authentic cowboy Cowboy retired to his ranch in Nebraska, fans faithfully invoked his name while grousing about the lack of a legit tight end. After all, who could forget the laughable lineage of Eric Bjornson, Tyji Armstrong, David LaFleur, Hayward Clay, Jackie Harris, Mike Lucky, Tony McGee and Dan Campbell? Enter Jason Witten. Exit the search. In his second season, Witten was Dallas' best and most reliable player, compiling the greatest year ever for a Cowboys tight end with 87 catches, 980 yards, six touchdowns and the team's first Pro Bowl representative at the position since you-know-who. Imagine if Witten would have had a decent quarterback. Speaking of, can we now get around to finding the next Troy Aikman?
You could be Brad Pitt's plastic surgeon. Pavarotti's voice coach. Mark Cuban's financial advisor. Or, in the name of stealing fortune and fame for doing a job that does itself, you could become swing coach of the greatest golfer on God's green earth. In a category usually reserved for Avery Johnson (smirk), Bill Parcells (giggle), Buck Showalter (guffaw) or Dave Tippett (who?), no coach had a greater impact on a greater player than McKinney's Hank Haney. Mired in the worst and only slump of his career, Tiger Woods hired Haney into his entourage last March to help rebuild his swing. The result? Tiger won The Masters and British Open, finished second at the U.S. Open, third at the PGA and is the no-brainer Player of the Year. Maybe there's hope yet for Halle Berry's dermatologist.
The University of North Texas should change its nickname (Mean Green sounds like one of The Wiggles), its conference (Sun Belt sounds like a south Florida fashion accessory) and perhaps its city (Denton sounds like, well, Denton). No reason, however, to tamper with its football coach. The aforementioned SBC has been around four seasons and all four times Darrell Dickey has been named its Coach of the Year. UNT has won four straight league titles, 25 consecutive conference games and, yet, little or no respect. Dickey can whip Middle Tennessee State all he wants and even boast back-to-back NCAA rushing champions, but until UNT wins its bowl game or at least stays competitive with the likes of Texas and OU, he'll have to settle for the humbling claim of "We're better than Southlake Carroll!" Maybe.
Only two Rangers with more than five at-bats hit over .300 in 2005. One was Chan Ho Park. Vomit. The other--ta-da!--is our winner. Of course we'd have given this honor to Zonk or Roger Moret or Ted Williams' chilly cranium before Ho. But we digress. We do that a lot, huh? When you don't have a lot of good things to say, the ol' "digress" seems to always present itself as a viable option. See there, we did it again. Speaking of Michael Young, the All-Star shortstop had a club-record 44 hits in June, was among the league's top five in batting average all season and committed only half as many errors as bumbling Keystone partner Alfonso Soriano. Best of all, on a team embarrassed by chair-throwing, camera-hatin' assholes Frank Francisco and Kenny Rogers the last two seasons, Young reminded us that it is still possible to be good on and off the field. And to do so without steroids.
He's paid dearly--emotionally and financially--through the years, but Dallas' sporting patriarch finally has his living legacy. Lamar Hunt, who slapped the defibrillator on soccer in the area more than a couple times, looked predictably like a proud papa when FC Dallas opened its brand spanking new Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. While Jerry Jones moved the Cowboys to the 817 for more money, Mark Cuban cut his captain to save money and Tom Hicks penny-pinched two teams into mediocrity, the 73-year-old Hunt spent $25 million of his own to make sure he left Dallas with a soccer-friendly venue. The father of the old AFL has grown into the grandfather of Dallas soccer. (And no, my dear immature friends, he doesn't have a son named Mike. Now back to your cubicles and your fluorescent lighting and your making appointments for "non-therapeutic" massages on your fancy BlackBerrys.)
We were prepared to again anoint him "Best Dallas Star," but we don't give no stinkin' trophies to oxymorons. Even good-looking, filthy rich ones. Last time we checked, ol' Mo was having the worst year of his hockey career. His skating was a step slow. (It's OK, we got a headache from that confusing imagery, too.) His reputation was dwindling. Shoot, even his finances were a mess. Fast-forward through a lost year of labor lockout and, presto! Guess who is still the "face of the franchise"? Other players can chirp all they want about how "it's not about the money." But when Modano disses Boston and Chicago and accepts $4 million less to play in Dallas, it makes him refreshing. And the fact that he finished his decision while watching The Family Guy makes him cool. Right, Stewie?