My night partying with Michael Irvin at the Hall of Fame

MichaelIrvin

The champagne was flowing, the women were iced out, and one of the greatest receivers in NFL history was giving high-fives and fist-bumps a few feet away from me.

A couple minutes later, we were on the dance floor, me and Mike, separated by about 100 other people.

I’d never felt more like Turtle from Entourage in my life.

How did I get here? Glad you asked.

*****************************************************************************************************

This past weekend was the NFL’s annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

And as soon as I realized that on Saturday, I thought back to the only night Jerry Jones and I ever shared a dance floor.

It was the spring of 2007, and my good friend Jeff Pearlman called. He was in the midst of working on his book on the early 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty, which I’d been helping him edit.

“Listen, I haven’t been able to get Michael Irvin for an interview,” Jeff said. “But his whole freakin’ family (Jeff says “freakin'” a lot) is going to be out in Canton for his Hall of Fame induction in August. Wanna come out and help me do interviews?”

I thought about it for oh, 4.8 seconds. I’d never been to the Hall of Fame, Jeff was paying for my hotel room, and why the hell not?

So fast forward a few months, and we arrive in Canton the Friday before the ceremony. At the inductees press conference, Irvin was terrific. Yes, the man was a cokehead and had a terrible attitude at times and sure, he had his run-ins with the law. But boy, is he a great talker.

Irvin was even better after the press conference, when Jeff and I, along with two or three other reporters, got Irvin in a more relaxed setting. He talked to us for about 45 minutes, to the point where I kept trying to think of other things to ask him,  because I’d run out of topics but wanted to see what he would say next.

Anyway, the next day was induction day, and Jeff told me that he thought there was a possibility, through a guy he met working on the book, that we might be able to crash Irvin’s post-ceremony party.

I was extremely dubious. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I thought two dorky white Jewish guys from New York might not BLEND IN at the party. But still, we could possibly get some cool details for the book.

Throughout the ceremony and afterwards, when Jeff and I interviewed as many as Irvin’s relatives as we could (typical quote: “We always knew Michael was special, he was just so fast and so good, and we knew the Lord had blessed him.”), I was still skeptical about our evening activities.

But when we showed up to the party tent on the grounds of the Hall, Jeff’s friend (who shall remain anonymous here, for the sake of his reputation) snuck is in the back.

I have to say, what I saw was … pretty awesome.

Food tables lining three walls of the enormous tent (this was like a banquet hall room, not a tent).  Beautiful women everywhere.  Music louder than the loudest concert you’ve been too. Hundreds of people, nearly all of them African-American, clamoring to get close to the guest of honor.

Irvin, in the middle of everything, dancing and singing and hugging and sucking all the energy of the room toward himself.

I believe I walked around in a daze for about 10 minutes, then sat down to take it all in. It was like I’d wandered onto the set of a Jay-Z video by mistake. To blend in (yeah, right), Jeff and I started eating and drinking (no Cristal for us, we were working, we told ourselves!).

And then, well, what happened next wasn’t the most professional move of my journalism career.

I started dancing. I didn’t know the words but who cared? I was at Michael Irvin’s party and everybody else was dancing, too, and I chalked it up to a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal.

Within a few minutes, I found myself grooving right next to Jerry Jones. Yes, the Cowboys owner who’s one of the richest men in the world. At the moment he had his hands all over a woman who was, maybe, 25 years old.

The man with the new face (he’d just gotten a facelift a year earlier) had a drink in one hand and the woman in the other, and at one point he looked over to me and winked. It was kind of creepy, but funny. I quickly moved away and snapped a cell phone picture of him and his “girlfriend,” because I knew none of my friends would believe I was really boogieing with Jerry Jones.

After about an hour at the party, the tent became wildly overcrowded. Suddenly, security people started walking around checking for bracelets that apparently identified you as an “invited” guest.

“Let’s put our hands in our pockets, maybe they won’t notice we don’t have bracelets,” Pearlman whispered.

It was not quite a winning strategy. We were quietly asked to leave, and so we did.

I’m guessing no one noticed that the two white Jewish guys weren’t there anymore. Then again, they probably never noticed us in the first place. Everyone there seemed to be so interested in themselves, or with talking to Irvin.

I learned a few things that night: One, it has to be incredible to party like a rock star anytime you want, which is what star athletes do. In just an hour, I saw how intoxicating it could be.

Two, I learned that, though I have little to no rhythm (see photo above,) I’m not alone. One stereotype busted for me that night: There are plenty of black people without rhythm, too.

Finally, I learned that when you’re thrust into a situation like that, the best thing to do is just keep movin’ to the beat and try to take it all in.

Because when trying to tell this story 30 years from now, it helps to add a few true details.

**Couple other thoughts about the NFL Hall of Fame Class of 2009 and the NFL:

— Bruce Smith was a great player, no doubt; as a Jets fan I feared him more than any other guy in the AFC East during those years (except maybe Willie McGinest, he always KILLED the Jets). But his cockiness always drove me nuts, and Thurman Thomas confirmed this at the Hall of Fame ceremony I went to two years ago.

He told the media that Smith, in 2007,  was already signing autographs “Bruce Smith, H.O.F. ’09.”

That, my friends, takes chutzpah.

— Glad to see Ralph Wilson get in; he’s one of the last of the old-school owners who believed in loyalty to fans. With the exception of, maybe, the Packers and Browns, no team has as loyal fans as the Bills.

— Could someone explain to me how Cris Carter is not in the Hall of Fame yet? Seriously. What more did the guy have to do in his career?

— I see that Jesse Jackson has compared Michael Vick with Jackie Robinson. Words fail me. Somewhere, Rachel Robinson just got nauseous.

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