Being like Mike? Irvin not the model to follow

ON THE NFL

July 16, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

On the field, Michael Irvin had Hall of Fame credentials with 750 catches and three Super Bowl rings. Off the field, he was the NFL's canary in the coal mine.

Irvin's troubles off the field were a foreshadowing of the myriad problems the NFL has had to deal with in the past year.

Irvin, who announced his retirement last week, pleaded no contest to a felony drug charge in 1996 and was sentenced to 800 hours of community service and four years' probation after being arrested in a hotel room with two women who described themselves as models.

But it was Irvin's attitude, as well as his acts, that tarnished his image and the those of the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL. He first asked the police, "Do you know who I am?" And he showed up in court wearing a fur coat and sunglasses. He was suspended for five games in 1996, and the Cowboys lost three of them and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

In 1998, he was involved in a murky incident dubbed "Scissorsgate." In some kind of a scuffle over a haircut that has never been fully explained, Irvin left a 2-inch gash on teammate Everett McIver's neck.

The Cowboys already had paid the ultimate price for Irvin's problems. They declined to draft Randy Moss in 1998 because they feared another image headache. Then they had to trade two first-round picks this year for Joey Galloway, who isn't as good as Moss.

Irvin has rehabilitated his image enough that he will do a TV gig on Fox Sports.

But the NFL he leaves behind is still reeling with image problems. The league is trying to educate the players with seminars, symposiums and other programs.

League officials showed how much emphasis they put on last month's rookie symposium by leaking the fact that Ron Dayne missed it even though he's appealing a $10,000 fine because a doctor recommended he not fly because of an ear infection.

But the league may be facing a losing battle as young players get more and more money.

Floyd Reese, the Tennessee Titans' general manager, said, "Twenty years ago, guys made good money, but they couldn't afford flying around in jets and riding in limos with an entourage. With these contracts, they can afford it now."

The best thing about the start of training camps is that the players won't have enough free time to get into trouble until the season starts in September.

League vice president Harold Henderson said that if the past is any indication, four rookies will get arrested this year, and the number will increase to 10 or 12 next year.

To play off a slogan from the NBA, the problem is that too many young players seem to want to Be Like Mike these days.

Spending money

The portrayal of Ravens rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor going on a spending spree on new vehicles, clothes and a diamond-studded watch on the ESPN show "Outside the Lines," even before he signed his contract, seemed to fit the stereotype of a young player tossing money around as if he had an endless supply.

But his agent, Steve Weinberg, a Baltimore native whose parents and family still live in the area, said the piece was misleading.

He said ESPN pitched it to him as a story on how a player drafted in the first round is like a lottery winner. Taylor will get at least a $4 million signing bonus. Weinberg said 16 hours of filming included Taylor at the Preakness and interviews with financial planners. But only the spending made the show.

Weinberg, an agent for six Ravens, said the reality is that Taylor won't be reckless with his money and will have an investment plan.

Weinberg recently joined forces with David Canter of Total Entertainment and Athlete Management. Canter said the firm provides "360-degree client care" with top-notch professionals handling every facet of a player's career and life. The firm represents 12 draft picks this year.

Weinberg said the $65,000 watch - which his firm got for Taylor at less than half price - was a lifelong dream, and Taylor wanted to make the purchase before camp starts so he can focus on football. Cantor said Taylor is working out at Cris Carter's camp in Florida, and his goal is to be a Pro Bowl player in his rookie year.

XFL challenge

The signing of Joe Hamilton, the Georgia Tech quarterback drafted on the seventh round by Tampa Bay, got little notice. Like all rookies drafted in the late rounds, he got the $193,000 minimum first-year salary. He also got a $33,000 signing bonus.

What was significant about the signing was that he was the first player to say no to the new XFL. The new league tried to convince him that he was better off getting playing time in the new league for $50,000 plus incentives than sitting on the bench as Tampa's third-string quarterback.

The new league gives rookies who are cut at the end of NFL camps another alternative.

Mike Keller, the XFL's football head, will sell them on the idea of the league's "Open Door" policy. They can play in the XFL starting in February, get experience, then try to make the NFL next fall.

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