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Saturday, February 4, 2006
Irvin focuses on Aikman's joy, not his own despair

Associated Press

DETROIT -- Michael Irvin took his snub more gracefully this time.

A year ago, the former Cowboys receiver sat in his hotel room and cried after learning he'd been denied by Hall of Fame voters. He got the same result again Saturday, but this time felt he should be part of the celebration because former teammate Troy Aikman got in.

"I'm so happy because I'm part of that story," Irvin said, after sitting in the audience and watching his quarterback discuss his election.

Aikman made it in his first year of eligibility. Emmitt Smith, who spoke forcefully on behalf of Irvin on Friday, is a shoo-in when he becomes eligible after the 2009 season. Irvin, the third member of the famed Dallas trio that won three Super Bowls in the '90s, certainly has the credentials, though off-the-field issues have made his case more complex.

In voting Saturday, Irvin, who now works for ESPN as a football analyst, made the first cut, down from 15 to 10 candidates, but his name was eliminated when voters trimmed the list to the final six.

"Last year this time, I was in my room crying. I couldn't move," he said. "Now, I'm out here and I'm going to laugh and enjoy this moment for Troy. It's not about me. It's about Troy."

While he reveled in Aikman's win, Irvin said the guys he really connected with were John Madden and Rayfield Wright, a pair of senior committee candidates who made it Saturday after decades of waiting. Both got choked up as they stood on the lectern to discuss their honors.

"Certainly, each one of those guys were just as excited as Troy Aikman," Irvin said. "I saw excitement and joy and thankfulness in each guy, whether it was a guy in his first year or Rayfield and John and guys that waited a long time. That's what I took from that."

Irvin's snub almost certainly didn't sit well with Smith, who spoke out on his teammate's behalf Friday, saying he was unjustly denied entry last year because of his off-the-field troubles.

"This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the Life Hall of Fame," Smith said. "His stats are what they are. They are not going to change."

Indeed, Irvin has stats that match up well with anyone: 750 receptions, 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns and a record 11 100-yard receiving games in 1995, when the Cowboys won their third Super Bowl.

But he had outside problems and they were well-documented.

In 1996, Irvin pleaded no contest to felony cocaine possession in exchange for four years of deferred probation, a $10,000 fine and dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. He also was arrested on drug possession charges in 2000, but they were later dropped.

Irvin was arrested in November for an outstanding warrant on an unpaid speeding ticket, then charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after police searched his car.

Asked if he thought Irvin belonged in the Hall, Aikman stayed away from the off-the-field issues, but still insisted it was a no-brainer.

"In my biased opinion, if there ever was a Hall of Fame receiver, it's Michael Irvin," Aikman said. "Why he didn't get in -- I don't know why he didn't get in."

Part of it could have been that this was a very competitive year for Hall voting. A maximum of six can make it in any year and all six finalists earned the minimum 80 percent of the votes from the 39-member panel.

Irvin said he figured his day will come soon. On this day, though, he felt he had no reason to sulk.

"I'm happy today. I'm happy for me. I'm happy to be a part of this," Irvin said. "Ultimately, when this thing is said and done, if I sit down and write a book on my life, I can't write it without Troy ... and ultimately, he can't write his story without me."