Daddy dearest

I really did think my interest in Michael Irvin was over.
I'd attended his trial day after day with three dozen other reporters from around the country. I'd heard more than I ever wanted to know about the drugs and the girls and the vibrating sex toys. I'd marveled, along with everyone on the planet, at the zero-hour court appearance of Irvin's wife--doing that Hillary Clinton-Lee Hart-Joan Kennedy thing. In this case, Sandy was standing by her man for the TV cameras while hubby copped a plea for that X-rated, drug-fueled, motel birthday party he'd apparently forgotten to invite her to last March.

Irvin had wanted to assure us all that day a short month ago that no matter what he was caught doing behind his wife's back, the important thing to remember was that he really did like her.

"I would also like to say, 'Thank God for my wife,'" Irvin effused at an afternoon press conference held in the warm bosom that is Valley Ranch. "If I've ever seen a piece of God on earth, I see him in my wife. When we read about it in the Bible and we talk about it off our tongues like it is something easy when we talk about unconditional love. She gives it. She never left my side. She never questioned. All she did was support and love. I don't think I deserve her, but God gave her to me.

"I shall work on being a better father," Irvin said. "I shall work on being a better husband."

Starting the very next day, by God. Irvin announced to the assembled media that instead of hauling off to football training camp in Austin, he was going to retreat to Florida and heal the wounds he's inflicted on his family. "I'm going to surround myself with my family in Miami," he said. "I'm going to talk with my wife, and we're going to decide what we will do from there."

Irvin (and his bosses and lawyers) knew, of course, that to make this little speech sound even remotely sincere, he was going to have to have his family sitting right there at the press conference with him while he was spouting his gibberish. And so the wife dutifully followed him around all day like a spanked pooch, and Irvin's two daughters completed the happy picture--all of which was devoured by a press corps starved for a peek into Irvin's twisted marital life (as opposed to his twisted extramarital one).

"For the first time since his legal troubles began, Mr. Irvin was accompanied in court Tuesday by his wife, Sandi, who sat in the front row immediately behind him as the judge handed down the sentence," the Dallas Morning News reported breathlessly in its napalm-bomb coverage of the historic events.

"Ms. Irvin brought the couple's two daughters, 6-year-old Myesha and 8-month-old Chelsea, to court," the story continued. "They also accompanied him to the Tuesday afternoon news conference and left with him in the family's Chevrolet Suburban."

Sitting there, reading those two paragraphs in our Dallas daily, I realized that my professional interest in Michael Irvin was going to last just a bit longer. Because Michael Irvin's marriage--even the little that we knew about it--was obviously a lot more twisted than anybody realized. And so was Michael Irvin.

Last Friday morning, I drove out Highway 175 toward Interstate 635, headed to the metropolis of Mesquite, Texas, in search of the mother of Myesha Beyonca Irvin.

Who, contrary to reports in the Morning News and Skip Bayless' newest inside-the-Cowboys book, is not Sandy Irvin. (The press also consistently has referred to Mrs. Irvin as "Sandi," but according to marriage records in Miami and court records in Dallas her name is "Sandy.")

Let's think about this for a minute.
Michael Irvin is on trial for morally questionable behavior--specifically, snorting, smoking, and generally screwing up his head with a whole lot of illegal drugs with a coupla cheesy chicks that we will respectfully refer to here as "dancers." (New movie idea: Dances With Vibrators.) Irvin's Dream Team of grossly underwhelming lawyers prove no match for the prosecution's star witness--Rachelle Smith, another "dancer"--who mesmerizes a nation with her tales of lesbian sex shows and Irvin-ordered strip searches. By now, even Jerry Jones, who had dispatched his personal lawyer to try to get Irvin off the hook, is in deep despair about the image of America's Team.

So Irvin cops a no-contest plea.
Naturally, Irvin's handlers arrange a day of carefully orchestrated media spin control to resurrect the be-slimed reputation of Michael Irvin. The star receiver--who has suddenly become best-known for his coke-and-dildo parties--wants the world to know that he is, first and foremost, a Big Family Man.

With that in mind, Irvin hauls out the wife. The baby daughter. And...the illegitimate love child? Specifically, the one whose mother had to recruit the Texas attorney general to file suit against Irvin in order to get him to own up to his responsibilities? In the real world, showing off the out-of-wedlock kid on his big day of contrition makes showing up for his grand-jury appearance in diamond earrings and a floor-length mink coat look like a shrewd move.

But then, knowing how low the flame burns in their brains, Irvin's lawyers probably don't know she isn't the couple's daughter. (Hell, they're too busy trying to keep track of how many girlfriends their client has.) Plus, Irvin doesn't care, anyway--which is the point, of course. Clearly, his brushes with the law amuse him. Why else would he make his big speech about flying off to Miami to make things up to his God-given, publicly humiliated wife only to show up four days later at a Fort Lauderdale topless club, as KTVT-TV Channel 11 so nicely reported that week?

It's a Michael Irvin we are coming to know so well.
Irvin was just as cocky when the state Attorney General's Office filed its paternity suit against him on April 10, 1990. Six weeks earlier, a 25-year-old woman named Felicia Paulette Walker had given birth to his daughter, Myesha, whom he had absolutely no intention of supporting. In fact, after hiring a top-notch lawyer with the downtown Dallas law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Irvin flatly denied, in an answer he filed with the court on June 8, 1990, that he was the father, and challenged the attorney general to prove otherwise.

Two weeks later, Irvin married his current wife, Sandy Harrell, in Florida.
But blood tests tell no lies--unless you're O.J., of course--so Walker's lawsuit, which dragged on for two years, eventually resulted in a court-ordered $210,000 trust fund for the girl. Myesha currently receives $1,250 a month in interest payments from her trust, which will vest in her name one day before she turns 18 years old.

The terms of the settlement--laid out in a decidedly unjuicy, 19-page court ruling dated March 23, 1992--were recently divulged in this paper and The Dallas Morning News in light of Irvin's legal troubles. The eye-opening details behind the ruling, however, are contained in a three-volume court file that I summoned last week from the archives of the Dallas County District Clerk's Office.

Walker was no one-motel-night-stand friend of Irvin's. A document in the court file states that the "parents of the child are separated," and it's clear that the two stayed in contact while Walker was pregnant with their child. Theirs was apparently not a very amicable relationship by that point.

In a series of written questions that Irvin's lawyers wanted answered for the lawsuit, Walker was asked if Irvin had ever "physically or psychologically abused you or Myesha Beyonca Irvin."

This was the answer as prepared by Walker's lawyers: "At one point during her pregnancy, [Walker] requested that [Irvin] provide funds in order that she could purchase groceries. [Irvin] cursed [Walker] and refused...[Irvin] has publically [sic] insulted and humiliated [Walker] by calling her profane names, such as 'bitch,' in a mall in the presence of other people, and has continually demonstrated total disregard and disrespect for [Walker.]...[Irvin] has on several occasions since 1989 called [Walker] on the phone and cursed her."

Unlike Irvin's more recent sexual companions, i.e. The Dancers, Walker was fairly conventional, working in the somewhat less exotic health-care profession, according to court records. A 1983 graduate of South Oak Cliff High School, Walker attended Bishop College for a year, and at the time she got pregnant with Irvin's child was working as a $17,000-a-year medical assistant for Dallas County's Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center and taking nursing classes at El Centro Community College.

Court records show that in March 1991 Walker was terminated from her MHMR job, which she'd had for three and a half years, "due to excessive absences for child surgery and illness," according to Walker. (Myesha apparently suffered chronic ear infections as a baby and finally had tubes surgically implanted in her ears--a procedure that was performed at Doctors Hospital near White Rock Lake a month after her mother lost her job.)

That spring was not a particularly good time for Walker. Her paternity case against Irvin had been dragging on for a year, and although the results of a court-ordered blood test had been released to all the parties back in September 1990--concluding that the probability of Irvin being the father was 99.5 percent--Walker still wasn't getting any kind of support from Irvin, nor was Irvin being ordered to pay her legal fees or the baby's medical bills.

A temporary support hearing was finally ordered for March 1, but the day before the hearing, Irvin's lawyers filed a motion requesting that the hearing be postponed and that Irvin be allowed to undergo a second blood test "due to what [Irvin] believes was an irregularity in the first paternity testing procedure."

Irvin got his new blood test (which had the same result as the first), and Walker got her temporary support, too--$1,900 a month, plus full medical and dental coverage for Myesha, who was placed by court order on Irvin's health insurance plan with the Cowboys.

When it became inevitable that Irvin was going to have to own up to his responsibilities to his child, Walker was asked to explain in writing why she should get custody of Myesha.

"[Irvin] is currently employed with the Dallas Cowboys," stated the answer to Interrogatory No. 20, a part of the court file. "He plays a starting position which requires him to travel with the team. Additionally, [Irvin] recently married and is attempting to start a new life with his new wife. [Walker] believes that the additional responsibility of caring for an infant child, who is the product of a previous relationship, would be a detrimental strain on [Irvin's] marital relationship. [Walker] does not believe this would be in the child's best interest."

Walker explained that she wanted custody, and she wanted Irvin to pay $2,500 a month in child support. Irvin, on the other hand, didn't want to pay more than $800 a month. As a result, the court ordered all kinds of financial documentation from Irvin, who wasn't exactly suffering, but wasn't yet a millionaire either.

When Myesha was born, Irvin was in the second year of a four-year contract with the Cowboys, which had signed the first-round draft pick fresh out of the University of Miami in July 1988. As a rookie Cowboy, Irvin made $256,000 in 1990, according to court documents, and $300,000 in 1991. And he was spending just about every penny of it.

According to an inventory of his assets and liabilities filed with the court in August 1991, Irvin was a young man already supporting a wife in Dallas and a mother back in Florida. (Since then, he has added two more households--Felicia Walker and Myesha, plus another Dallas woman named Sandy Shore, who sued Irvin last year on behalf of her unborn baby and settled for an undisclosed sum.)

Here in Dallas, Irvin's modest brick home in Carrollton, purchased shortly after he arrived in Dallas, was costing him $1,636 a month. He was driving a 1988 BMW that he was paying $626 a month on. And he had taken out a $1 million life insurance policy that was costing him a whopping $6,200 a year in premiums.

Irvin had a house full of furniture--living-room pieces and four bedroom sets (no dining-room furniture, apparently)--but it wasn't lavish stuff by any means. He clearly liked electronic gadgets--better to see himself on TV, perhaps. He owned two TVs--one of them apparently oversized--two stereo systems, two VCRs, and a video camera. His VISA card had an outstanding balance of $9,800. (His legal bills for the paternity case were hefty, too; his last set of bills at the end of the two-year case totaled $27,000.)

According to court documents, Irvin and his wife had surprisingly little savings tucked away for a rainy day:They had one money-market account with $2,500 in it and two checking accounts with $500 and $13,000, respectively.

But it's not hard to see why his finances were a bit stretched.
According to court documents, Irvin had bought his mother, Pearl, a $185,000 home in Plantation, Florida, less than a year after Irvin joined the Cowboys. (During the Irvin family's house hunt, Michael and his mama, who had raised her 17 children in abject poverty, apparently surprised one would-be seller of a large home by asking if she would be willing to sell the house as is--with every piece of furniture and every pie plate left in it.)

Irvin was not only paying the $2,020 a month mortgage on his mom's house, he was paying all the utilities and maintenance on it. He also was paying for his mom's new car, her car insurance, her gas and maintenance, her groceries, her clothing, and every other thing she bought.

Of course, since those days, Irvin's financial situation has loosened up considerably. In fact, we can only marvel at Felicia Walker's miserable luck in the timing of her paternity trial, which took place before state District Judge Hal Gaither on October 28, 1991--just as the clock began to wind down on Irvin's initial four-year contract with the Cowboys.

Gaither's final ruling, setting up the trust fund, was issued on March 23, 1992. Sure enough, four months later Irvin demanded a whopping $1.4-million-a-year salary to stay with the Cowboys, and team owner Jerry Jones agreed to $1.25 million a short time later. In 1995--with Jones bound and determined to win a third Super Bowl--Irvin's salary skyrocketed to $5.5 million a year.

At the Super Bowl last January, Irvin apparently reached something of a financial zenith. While Coach Barry Switzer, star quarterback Troy Aikman, and the rest of the Cowboys team boarded buses to go to their first practice in Phoenix, Irvin and three fellow players--Erik Williams, Leon Lett, and Nate Newton--traveled separately in a $1,000-a-day limousine they imported from Dallas.

Walker's agreement is constructed in such a way that it blocks his 6-year-old daughter from sharing in his success. According to the stipulations of the trust fund set up four years ago, if Walker ever petitions a court for more money for her daughter, Myesha's trust fund will automatically vest in the name of Michael Irvin, and he will no longer have financial responsibility for the child.

Last Friday, I pulled up in front of a tiny brick home in a treeless neighborhood in Mesquite. The house overlooked a huge field that, ironically enough, contains Mesquite Memorial Stadium, an almost surreally large football facility adjacent to West Mesquite High School.

Felicia Walker purchased the house, on the county tax rolls for $90,420, eight months after the judge ruled in her favor in the paternity case. This is where she and Myesha live.

Last Friday, as I stood at the front door, fruitlessly ringing the bell and knocking on the door, beginning to think that nobody was home, I watched as a small black Mercedes came roaring down the driveway from the rear of the house.

Although it seemed clear that whoever was behind the wheel had no interest in talking to the person at their front door, I proceeded to flag down the car, which dutifully slowed to a stop. Felicia Walker, a pretty, trim woman wearing a black, silk T-shirt, peered out of the driver's side window at me, listening calmly--almost bored--as I explained that I was a newspaper reporter wanting to discuss Michael Irvin with her. She was in a rush to get somewhere, she explained, but if I could give her a business card, she would call me later.

Knowing full well that I would never hear from her again--and I didn't--I asked her the one thing that most intrigued me about her as I fumbled around in my handbag for a card.

Didn't it bother her seeing her daughter described in the media as the daughter of Sandy and Michael Irvin? "I'm used to it," she shrugged. Sandy Irvin was nice to her daughter, she told me, and Myesha and Michael were "very close."

Yes, but, she was her mother. She was raising her. Didn't she deserve the credit? She paused and looked over at me as if I were the dumbest creature to ever squint at her through her car window.

"It's better for him," she said. "Imagewise.


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