Michael Irvin is a polarizing figure. If you are a Cowboys fan, you probably think of him as an NFL great and a deserved Hall of Famer because of the three Super Bowls he helped the Cowboys win. If you’re a fan of another team, you probably have a less favorable opinion of him because he had a controversial career, which has continued in his post-playing career.
Irvin has had several run-ins with the law and been arrested on multiple occasions. Some people might think that was a result of his success on the football field, but the reality is Irvin even had a hard life when he was growing up in a poor Fort Lauderdale neighborhood.
Michael Irvin’s rough childhood
Irvin was the 15th of 17 children in his family, and there wasn’t a lot of money to go around, which meant the family lived in a bad neighborhood, according to a 1993 profile of the wide receiver by Sports Illustrated.
Violence was a common sight for Irvin during his childhood, saying on the Great Dane Nation podcast that neighbors would beat you up if you did something wrong. Irvin was determined to get out of the Miami area and away from his childhood memories as soon as he could.
His father’s death changed Michael Irvin
That changed one day when Irvin was in high school. He came home from football practice one night to find mourners in his family’s house — his father had died when he was at school that day.
The cause of death was officially listed as cancer, but Irvin didn’t believe that. He was convinced that something else killed his father, saying “the work killed him.”
At that point, Irvin became determined to make it to the NFL so he could make sure nobody else in his family would ever have to work as hard as his father did. With that new commitment to dedicating himself to football came a realization that he didn’t have to leave Miami behind.
Later that year, he attended a spring practice at the University of Miami under new head coach Jimmy Johnson. He told coach Hubbard Alexander that he was “just looking for whose job [he’s] going to take.” Irvin ultimately committed to play for the Hurricanes after graduating from high school.
A legendary college football career at Miami
Irvin played three seasons at Miami, totaling 143 catches in 33 games, resulting in 2,423 yards and 26 touchdowns — all school records at the time he left the program to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft in 1988.
Prior to that, Irvin led the NCAA in touchdown receptions each of his first two seasons and was part of the Hurricanes’ 1987 national championship team. He skipped his final year of eligibility to jump to the NFL a year early, with the Cowboys taking him with the 11th pick in the draft. Miami inducted Irvin into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Success follows Michael Irvin even in his controversial NFL career
The Cowboys made Irvin a first-round pick, and it paid off for the team on the field. He played his whole 12-year career for Jerry Jones’ franchise, catching 750 balls for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns.
But he got into some trouble off the field, which may have risked derailing his Hall of Fame career. With the Cowboys preparing to play a playoff game in 1996, a cheerleader accused Irvin and a teammate of sexual assault.
According to the New York Times, It was later determined that she was fabricating the story, but the controversy overshadowed the game, which the Cowboys ended up losing.
Two years later, Irvin was accused of assaulting teammate Everett McIver with a pair of scissors. Again according to the New York Times, Jones reportedly helped the players reach a six-figure settlement to keep McIver from pursuing criminal charges against the star receiver.
Say what you want about the controversies that have followed Irvin, but he was able to achieve his dream of making to the NFL so that his family never had to work themselves to death.