- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Michael Irvin played with as much emotion as any NFL receiver ever has, and yesterday he showed that same side when he announced his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys.

"I have always been emotional," said Irvin, who concluded his 12-year career ninth on the all-time list with 750 catches and 11,904 receiving yards. "My enthusiasm for the game gave me an edge. There are certain things you can do in a physical state. Once you get emotional about it, you get … bigger, stronger, faster. That's why I tried to play that way and tried to get my teammates to play that way. I tried to be that emotional leader for my teammates."

The often-brash Irvin, who wore a pumpkin-colored suit yesterday, summoned much different feelings last October as he lay temporarily paralyzed in Veterans Stadium after being hit by Philadelphia defensive backs Bobby Taylor and Tim Hauck.

"I was teaching my kid how to tackle last night and I was happy at being able to get up when I let him tackle me over and over, [so] walking away from the game is a blessing," said the 34-year-old Irvin, who didn't play again after tests revealed he had a narrow spinal column that made permanent damage more likely in the event of a similar hit. "There was some serious thought about playing again. You start rationalizing. You have been playing all your life knowing that any hit could be the last one. But I have accomplished a great deal and there's no need to risk going any farther."

Indeed, Irvin was one of the NFL's top receivers. The Cowboys' top draft choice in 1988, Irvin helped turn the slumbering franchise back into a force once he put his first three injury-plagued seasons behind him. From 1991-95, Irvin averaged 90 catches, 1,419 yards and eight touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl each year. During that span, Dallas went 71-22 (including playoffs), won three Super Bowls and reached four NFC Championship games.

"Michael Irvin is one of the greatest competitors I have ever known," said Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 1991-93. "I feel fortunate to have been involved with a player of his ability. He was as good a player as I've been around."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones drew smiles from Irvin when he recalled the NFL's competition committee changing the definition of offensive pass interference because of the way Irvin used his 6-foot-2, 207-pound size to outmuscle smaller cornerbacks for the ball.

"Michael figured out how to intimidate with just a little push and break open to get that pass from [quarterback] Troy [Aikman] at a key time," Jones said. "They had to change the rule because they said it was unfair. It was the Michael Irvin rule change."

Jones also praised Irvin's leadership, especially with young players and said, "Michael inspired us all. We will not replace Michael Irvin in terms of what he has meant to the success we've had."

The Cowboys have won just one playoff game since they captured their last Super Bowl five years ago, but it was still tough for Irvin to walk away from a chance at another title in Dallas.

"It's a sad day, but it's a great day because I never once wanted to play for any organization other than the Dallas Cowboys," Irvin said. "I never wanted to give my heart to any other fans other than the Dallas fans. That's what they gave me. The love really showed through the good times and the bad times. This is home. It's not hard to say goodbye to playing in the NFL, but it's hard to say goodbye to playing football here. We shared some great times. We made it a family. I just want to say thank you for all the support."

As is often the case these days when stars retire, Irvin will step right into television work as a studio analyst for Fox Sports Net.

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