Beyond the Playmaker

Two years ago, I wrote about watching the Hall of Fame induction ceremony of my childhood idol, Dan Marino. It was a touching and emotional moment for me because Dan’s son, Daniel, delivered one of the most touching and memorable presentation speeches for his father, and it was delivered with poise, dignity and class.

Fast forward to this past weekend and the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for the class of 2007. Inducted into the legendary football museum in Canton, Ohio were Gene Hickerson, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Roger Wehrli, Thurman Thomas and Michael Irvin. I did not catch the acceptance speeches of the first five players I listed, but I was fortunate enough to hear what Michael Irvin had to say. I have to explain that I have mixed emotions when it comes to ‘The Playmaker” that is Michael Irvin. Actually, after listening to his speech, I need to correct myself and say I HAD mixed emotions.

Irvin played his high school ball at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a school against which my high school alma mater competed. Michael then went on to star at the University of Miami, playing for Jimmy Johnson and being an integral part of the 1987 National Championship team. Of course all Hurricane fans loved him and that fanaticism followed him to the NFL where he once again played for Jimmy Johnson, but this time as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Following a neck injury in 1999 that ended Irvin’s career, Michael went on to be a football analyst for ESPN. The cockiness and bravado that made him a superstar on the football field followed him into the studio, and in my opinion it simply did not translate well. As much as I enjoyed watching him play football, I could stand to watch him talk about the game. If the camera adds ten pounds, Michael Irvin’s ego added another twenty. I am not saying he was a bad analyst; rather he simply was not my cup of tea. Add to that the legal problems he encountered both as a player and then as an employee of ESPN and my desire to remain a fan of #88 dissipated away.

All I can say is that following his induction ceremony speech, I am once again a fan. However, this time I am a fan of the man that is Michael Irvin. Michael’s speech included stories of his playing days, tributes to Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, the two other members of the famous Cowboys Triplets that led the organization to three Super Bowls in four years, as well as words of appreciation for his coaches and other former teammates. Then Michael did something I never thought I’d see an arrogant, confident and playmaker of a man do. He reached down into the depth of his soul and humbled himself in front of his wife, his children, and the thousands of spectators in Canton.

Michael alluded to how he was not selected to the Hall of Fame last year, his first year of eligibility, in part because of his obvious character flaws. He made amends to his wife for mistakes he made in the past. He cried as he spoke about the love he has for his children. He shared with the crowd how he prays to God for the strength to raise his sons so they can be better men than he ever was. It was touching, inspiring and everything a heartfelt speech should be.

For me, it was a reminder that no matter how deep the valleys are we travel or how dark the nights may feel, there is always hope to turn things around in our lives. There is always the opportunity to make amends and make things right. Michael Irvin did not wipe the slate clean – the past will always exist and be a part of our lives. What he did accomplish, however, was to pull himself up to a level of deserved respectability by sincerely humbling himself and verbally atoning for his previous flaws. And to that, I stand and applaud not a former football player but rather a man who currently serves as a role model for anyone who may feel they’ve lost all hope.

Here is the final bit of Michael’s acceptance speech. I implore you all to try an find the complete speech. It’s well worth the time.

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