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Saturday, August 4, 2007
Michael Irvin: 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement speech

ESPN.com

Following is the transcript of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin's enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio Saturday night:

PRESENTER JERRY JONES

Hey, man, that will fire you up there. What an honor to be here with you, to be right here on this historic ground with these champions, these champions sitting here behind us.

You know, it is unique what can be the makeup of a championship team. A championship team can have a catalyst. They can have a spark, someone that can put a fire in another person's heart.

Hall of Fame Speeches

There were tears and laughter. There were moments of sheer joy and sheer emotion. They were the Class of 2007 Hall of Fame speeches and they were unforgettable. Read what the Hall of Famers and their presenters said on Saturday.

Gene Hickerson
Michael Irvin
Bruce Matthews
Charlie Sanders
Thurman Thomas
Roger Wehrli

The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s were champions. They were in three Super Bowls and won them in four years' time. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you tonight that the heartbeat, the heart and the soul of those championship teams, was Michael Irvin. Michael came to Dallas with a self proclaimed nickname, the Playmaker.

Now, at first many people didn't understand why this young guy would brand himself with such a bold nickname. But we begin to figure it out real, real soon.

When it was third and long, opposition coaches knew exactly where Troy Aikman was throwing the ball. The defensive backs knew exactly where Aikman was going with the ball. Everybody in the stadium knew where the ball was going, but they couldn't stop it.

Michael Irvin
Michael Irvin stands with his bust after delivering an emotional acceptance speech.
Troy Aikman often said the greatest thing about Michael Irvin is you could throw him the ball when he was covered or you could throw him the ball when it was open, and the results were usually the same almost all the time. It was either a completion and most of the time it was for a first down.

Now, when you've got a quarterback that has that kind of confidence in your receiver, you can have some offense. That's how you earn the name Playmaker, and that's how you keep it.

His performance always improved as the level of competition increased. He routinely had his best games against Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Aeneas Williams. And his numbers increased as that long season went along and we got closer to the playoffs. From the regular season to the playoffs, from the playoffs to the Super Bowl, that was Michael Irvin's best days.

At the pinnacle of his career in 1995, he had 11 100 yard receiving games, a mark that is still an NFL record today. But the Dallas Cowboys' offenses really weren't designed for the receiver to get big stats. They really weren't designed for Troy, the quarterback, to really rack 'em up in statistics.

The teams were designed to win championships, and what that meant was take what the defense gave you. Now, with the backdrop of all of that, the fact that one team could produce the NFL's greatest all time rushing leader in Emmitt Smith, the fact that last year the first opportunity that he had a chance to be honored with these men, Troy Aikman came into the NFL Hall of Fame.

And the fact tonight that Michael Irvin is going to go in the Hall of Fame, it just shows you the team concept and shows you the balance that was there. The player that epitomized it more than anyone on the team, the player that taught it, the player embellished it, that was Michael Irvin and his leadership.

You can't get to Canton, Ohio without exceptional talent. But athletic ability alone was only a part of Michael's gifts. His hard work is legendary. In two a days, the grind of all of it. When you'd be on the field in the morning and in the afternoon, someone would look around and find, Where is Michael? He'd be down on the field with pads on in the hot sun getting some more in.

His passion, his competitiveness were really possibly his greatest gifts he shared them with his teammates on a daily bases. He practiced every day with the determination of a rookie that was hanging by a thread to make the team, and that's the way this great player approached it.

Aikman told me yesterday that Michael would never let the team have a bad practice. If there was a lull, he would create something between the defense and the offense. He'd get some stuff going just so that team could practice and get better for what they had to face Sunday.

Maybe that's the quality that separates the good players from the great players, the Hall of Fame players. Or maybe it's just the natural instinct of a man who had 16 brothers and sisters and knew that nothing in life was going to be given to him.

In the locker room, he was a teammate first, a competitor second, and a superstar third. His leadership style not only transcended the cliques in the locker room, but his leadership style on our team and our organization went from the locker room and the equipment room all the way to the boardroom. It permeated it.

I don't know that we'll see again a professional football player with a combination of his strength and his skills as an athlete on the field and his unbelievable people skills. Smart, resourceful, communication, charm, the kind of charisma and tremendous will with the strength to get the respect of the team. He had his faults. But in a unique way, that only Michael Irvin could pull off.

His fallibility by the people who followed him, by the people who were looking at him, his fallibility gave them strength because they knew, too, how fallible they were, and they wanted to see somebody that could go down and come up stronger and try to get better when they got on their feet. That's what Michael Irvin brought to the Dallas Cowboys and his locker room.

He learned his game from his older brothers in Fort Lauderdale. He had a great high school he played for, St. Thomas High School. He became a star at the University of Miami, drafted by Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm. He was nurtured by coach Tom Landry. He was coached in college and embellished when he got to pro football by one of the greatest coaches, Jimmy Johnson.

He spent his entire career in the loving embrace of the Dallas Cowboys. His journey reaches a destination tonight here in Canton, and it was a longer journey than most, with a lot of bumps in the road. He got knocked down for the last time at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. But tonight he'll get up again and he'll take his place among the immortals of this great game.

Michael Irvin, he's a friend. If you're in my shoes, you feel like he's a son. He's an inspirational and natural born leader. He's a loving father and husband. He's a wonderful brother and son. He's a Dallas Cowboy.

And tonight, forever more, he's a member of the professional football Hall of Fame. It's with pride that I present to you Michael Irvin. C'mon up here.

MICHAEL IRVIN

Thank you. Father, I'd like to thank you for allowing us all to travel here safely, thank you in advance for the same in allowing us to travel home.

Father, thank you for the man that you sent me to help me in Bishop T.D. Jakes, my spiritual father. I ask you now to put your arms around my Hall of Fame classmate Gene Hickerson and his family. Father, hold them tight and love them right. In Jesus' name, I pray, amen.

Thank you.

I want to send a special love to all the people in Dallas, Texas, special love to all the Dallas Cowboy fans all over the world. Special love goes to my hometown of South Florida and all the Miami Hurricane fans, St. Thomas Aquinas fans.

I want to send love to every fan everywhere because you hear so often that people say, Oh, these are the guys that built the game. No. It's your hunger and your love for the game, your love for what we do that make this game what it is. I thank you for loving the game like we love it.

Jerry, those were kind words. Thank you. You know, when I first met Jerry he had just purchased the Dallas Cowboys. He had a bit of a concerned look on his face. I said to him, I said, We will have fun and we will win Super Bowls. You see, I knew Jerry had put all he had into purchasing the Cowboys. That's the way I see Jerry. He's a man that's willing to give all he has and all he wants to bring the Cowboy family Super Bowls.

Jerry, I appreciate your commitment to family, the Dallas Cowboy family and your own family. He has a beautiful wife, Jean. I tell her this. I just love her to death. Her spirit exudes beauty. Her mannerisms exude class. She's one of a kind. Jean, I do love you.

They have beautiful kids, daughter Charlotte, son Steven and Jerry, Jr. Each have played a role in my life and I thank all of them.

A heartfelt thank you to the selection committee, especially Rick Gosselin and Charean Williams. Charean is the first woman to have a seat on the selection committee. Charean, congratulations to you.

These gentlemen behind me, these men, they inspired me to become the player that I became. As I spent this week with these gentlemen that I've admired growing up, I kept thinking about how gifted they are. Man, they're gifted to run and cut, gifted to throw and catch, gifted to run through blocks and make great tackles.

And then I met their wives and their families and I realized that it's not only about the gift God gave us, but equally important is the help that God gave us. It's the people that God put in place to support us on our journey. So I will try to put the credit in the right place tonight and share with you my help and my journey.

I thank God for the help of my father Walter Irvin, whom I lost at the age of 17. He was my hero and he loved, I'm telling you, he loved the Dallas Cowboys. I woke up this morning smiling knowing that my father had not be here in the flesh but that he is in heaven watching and celebrating with his all time favorite coach, Coach Tom Landry.

Also Tex Schamm, Derrick Shepard and Mark Tuinei. Those guys, we think about them here, we feel them here. They will always be with us.

Before my father made his journey to heaven I sat with him. His final words to me were, Promise me you will take care of your mother. She's a good woman. As you've heard, my mother raised 17 children, most of whom are here tonight. There were challenges. But she would never complain. She always walked around the house and said, God has promised me that my latter days will be better than my former days. My mom and my Aunt Fanny, her oldest sister, they are part of my travel squad now.

As we travel, all they want is a nice room and an open tab on room service. When my workday is done I get to come by their room and we tell stories and we laugh and we have fun. We always end the night with them telling me, Baby, this is what God meant when he said, Our latter days will be better than our former days.

I can't tell you how it makes me feel to know that God uses me to deliver His promise. I love you, mom. I love you, Aunt Fanny.

For better or for worse, those are the vows we take before God in marriage. It's easy to live with the for better, but rarely can you find someone who sticks around and endures the for worse. Sandy, my beautiful wife, I have worked tirelessly, baby, to give you the for better. But I also gave you the for worse, and you didn't deserve it. You didn't deserve it.

But through it all I experienced the depth of your love and I thank God for you. I love the mother that you are, the wife that you are, I love the way that you take care of our family, our daughters Myesha and Chelsea, and our sons Michael and Elijah. I thank you from a place that I can't mention, I can't even express, baby, for keeping our family together. I love you so much.

My football family, as Jerry told you, began at St. Thomas Aquinas High School under the wise tutelage of a great coach named George Smith. George Smith dedicated 37 years to that great program. He's a great man. I thank all the people at St. Thomas for believing in a young man like me.

And then I went on to the University of Miami. I think most of y'all know how I feel about the U. Yeah, the U. You better believe it. After that I was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys where I played and worked with some of the best to ever be around this game. For example, Emmitt Smith. Emmitt Smith is the all time leading rusher.

The great thing about that, his rookie year he said to me he was going to become the all time leading rusher. I doubted him like I think everybody would have. But what an inspiration to be in a room and see a man set a goal so high and then be persistent, be dedicated, and accomplish that which he set out to accomplish. Emmitt, you're an inspiration to so many.

The third part and the third member The Triplets is Troy Aikman. My quarterback, our leader. Troy Aikman led us to three Super Bowls. When I said "led," I mean led, to three Super Bowls. He's the winningest quarterback in the decade of the '90s. If you talk to him and you ask him what's his most memorable game, he will tell you that '94 NFC Championship game that everybody's talking about.

It's a game we were down by 21 and we lost, but we never gave up. That's the mark of a true leader. All he wants is for each player to give all he has all the time. That's Troy Aikman.

That game is one of my most memorable games for all those reasons, but it had a little something extra for me. We were down 21. Troy came to that huddle with those big blue eyes and he looked up and he said, Hey, I'm coming to you no matter what. Whew, let me tell you. As a wide receiver, that's all I ever wanted to hear. Just come to me no matter what. And he did, he did. He came to me no matter what.

But, Troy, you've always come to me no matter what, and I'm not just talking about on the football field. For that, you have a special place in my heart. You always will no matter what. I love you, Troy. I love you deeply.

As The Triplets, we received most of the press, the credit. But we were surrounded with some great guys, great players, talented guys. Guys like Darren Woodson, Dallas Cowboys all time leading tackle. My Cowboy counterpart Jay Novacek, what a great tight end he is. Daryl Johnston, the unsung hero, Moose. Larry Allen and Eric Williams are two of the better linemen, if not the best linemen, to ever play this game. The big fella, Nate Newton. Jim Jeffcoat. And one of the best cornerbacks and the finest athlete I've ever been around, that's Deion Sanders, Prime Time.

So, so many more.

You can't accomplish what we've accomplished with just great players. You also need great coaches. And we had that. We had guys like Norv Turner, Dave Wannstedt, Dave Campo. My position coach, coach Hubbard Alexander, who is my heart. Coach, you took me as a young man out of high school, and I know I gave you a lot of mess through the years. Thank you for being there, Coach. And our head coach, he had always be my head coach, that's Jimmy Johnson.

We worked hard. We had the best, and I'm telling you the very best, and I'm willing to take an argument with anybody on this, strength and conditioning coach in the world. His name is Mike Warsick. He has six Super Bowl rings. Six, people. Twice he has won three Super Bowls in four years, once with us and now with the New England Patriots. So if anybody wants to take an argument, I am a debater. I am here and ready.

Mike Warsick, you are, man, the very best. You put me back together from that knee injury. As we always tell each other when we say good bye, MissPaw (phonetic), which means may God hold you till we see each other again.

I also walked on campus at the University of Miami the same day with our PR director, Rich Dalrymple. I know some of you are saying it's fitting that you are tight with the PR director, Michael. But Rich has been a great friend. When I walk in his office now Rich has a picture of us. He has pictures of us at the University of Miami with this nice beautiful black hair, and then he has pictures of us now when he's all gray.

He says to me all the time, You see these gray hairs? I say, Yeah. He says, You gave them to me. I tell him, I say, Well, you see those four championship rings you have? I gave them to you, too.

I have experienced all this game has to offer on the football field, the losing, going 3 13, even 1 15. In my second season the career threatening knee injury, thinking I would never play this game that I love again. And even in 1999, the career ending neck injury. That which football players fear the most.

But I've also had some beautiful victories. We won three Super Bowls in four years. I can't tell you what that feels like. And we did it with guys that we loved to play with and guys that we loved. Folks, I'm telling you, that's the true essence of a football family, and that's exactly what we are not was what we are. I love all of those guys that I played with.

Since retiring I have developed a deeper awareness and understanding for this game. First as a fan and then as an analyst. That is why I've learned it's so much more than merely a game. Thanks to ESPN. Thank you, ESPN, for giving me the opportunity to travel to NFL stadiums throughout this country, visiting with fans, and seeing this game from a completely different perspective.

The movie, Remember the Titans, is my favorite movie, staring Denzel Washington. I love the way in this movie the game of football brings those boys together, it unites those boys on that football field. It unites a whole town, black, white, old, young, rich and poor. It happens every year around this time in NFL locker rooms and NFL stadiums. So don't tell me it's just a game.

My favorite day was Monday, September the 25th, 2006. New Orleans, Louisiana, site of the Superdome. I watched our people who had suffered so grievously through Hurricane Katrina fill a stadium hours before a game and stay hours after the game. I witnessed those fans as they looked for each other, hugged one another and just be thankful to be in that stadium.

You see the game flexed its greatest muscle that day: the ability to heal. I experienced a football game that contributed to the healing of a city. So don't tell me it's just a game.

You know the Bible speaks of a healing place. It's called a threshing floor. The threshing floor is where you take your greatest fear and you pray for help from your great God. I want to share something with you today. I have two sons. Michael, he's 10, and Elijah, he's 8. Michael and Elijah, could you guys stand up for me. That's my heart right there. That's my heart. When I am on that threshing floor, I pray. I say, God, I have my struggles and I made some bad decisions, but whatever you do, whatever you do, don't let me mess this up.

I say, Please, help me raise them for some young lady so that they can be a better husband than I. Help me raise them for their kids so that they could be a better father than I. And I tell you guys to always do the right thing so you can be a better role model than dad. I sat right here where you are last year and I watched the Class of 2006: Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Harry Carson, Rayfield Wright, John Madden, and the late great Reggie White represented by his wife Sara White. And I said, Wow, that's what a Hall of Famer is.

Certainly I am not that. I doubted I would ever have the chance to stand before you today. So when I returned home, I spoke with Michael and Elijah . I said, That's how you do it, son. You do it like they did it. Michael asked, he said, Dad, do you ever think we will be there? And I didn't know how to answer that. And it returned me to that threshing floor. This time I was voiceless, but my heart cried out. God, why must I go through so many peaks and valleys?

I wanted to stand in front of my boys and say, Do it like your dad, like any proud dad would want to. Why must I go through so much?

At that moment a voice came over me and said, Look up, get up, and don't ever give up. You tell everyone or anyone that has ever doubted, thought they did not measure up or wanted to quit, you tell them to look up, get up and don't ever give up.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Transcript provided by the Pro Football Hall of Fame