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A New Route in Life

Former Cowboy Michael Irvin is working hard at being a good broadcaster and a better family man

July 27, 2002|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael Irvin, in Lake Tahoe last week for a celebrity golf tournament, was talking with a reporter about how focused he is on his daily workouts.

"Sounds like you're monomaniacal," the reporter said.

"Monomaniacal, that's a great word," Irvin said. "What does it mean?"

The reporter told him it means excessive interest in one thing.

"I'm going to use it tonight on the show," Irvin said.

The next day Irvin called on his cell phone. "Did you hear me use your word, monomaniacal?" he said. "You got another word for me today?"

Two years since retiring from football, Irvin, who commutes to Los Angeles from his home outside Dallas to work regularly on Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," seems as monomaniacal about his new career in broadcasting as he was about catching passes.

In 12 seasons as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, he played on three Super Bowl championship teams, made the Pro Bowl five seasons in a row, led the NFL in yards receiving in 1991 with a club-record 1,523 and finished his career with 11,904 yards receiving and 750 receptions, both club records.

But with his fame came trouble.

In 1996, he pleaded no contest to felony drug possession after he, former teammate Alfredo Roberts and two strippers were busted in a motel room where cocaine and marijuana were found. That was only one of his run-ins with the law.

Irvin says he was never addicted to drugs. His addiction was sex. It was an addiction that almost cost him everything. He eventually hit bottom.

That happened, he says, on Valentine's Day, 2001.

The previous night, he came home after being gone for two days. He left again but promised wife Sandi he'd be back in an hour.

He came back the next morning, after spending the night with another woman.

"I was with my brother Derrick," he said in a recent interview. "We drove past a bar and he suggested stopping for one drink. I said, 'OK, but only one drink.'

"I would always tell myself I was going to have only one drink. Then a bad woman would come over, and sometimes she'd bring a friend. That was always my excuse to myself for having another drink--bad women."

The drinks often led to partying and illicit sex. Drugs were usually involved, at least until Irvin quit doing drugs following his 1996 drug conviction. He had little choice in the matter then.

"I was put on probation for four years and was tested for drugs four or five times a week," he said.

"It's all about self-esteem. I lacked self-esteem, going all the way back to kindergarten [in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.]. I couldn't read or write, but the white kids could. I thought, 'I'm just a dumb black kid.'

"I didn't realize the white kids had been to preschool.

"That lack of self-esteem stays with you. You're always trying to prove to everybody how great you are, how perfect you are.

"It made me [excessive] in football. That's also what all the women were about. I had to prove to everyone I could get a lot of women, that I was perfect.

"I used to think I could do everything myself. I didn't need to play anybody's game, I was going to do it my way.

"That's why I showed up in court after my drug charge wearing a mink coat. It was a dumb thing to do, but I was going to show everyone I was doing it my way."

Irvin attributes most of his own troubles to his sex addiction, which isn't much different than being addicted to drugs and alcohol. It's something Irvin will have to always battle.

"You can't beat a sex addiction any more than you can beat alcoholism," said Dr. John Sealy, the medical director of the sexual addiction recovery program at Del Amo Hospital in Torrance.

"We call it getting into recovery, rather than being recovered. Each day you make a commitment to stay in recovery."

Irvin said he has made a commitment to God, which Sealy said is one way of handling it.

There are many ways to act out on the addiction, be it on the Internet or with prostitutes, according to Sealy.

"Or by picking up girls," he said.

For Irvin, finding women to feed his addiction was never a problem, particularly in Dallas, where he enjoyed superstar status.

"As a man, you really don't think about women hitting on you," he said. "Women get hit on all the time, but not men. Well, believe me, I got hit on all the time."

And, he said, he usually obliged.

Irvin, 36, went into a depression after he retired in July 2000. He was drinking and chasing women, sometimes staying out all night.

When he returned home Valentine's morning last year after another night of extramarital sex, he said he broke down, got on his knees and cried. So did Sandi.

"Of course I was very disappointed, but he was also very disappointed in himself," Sandi said by telephone from the Irvins' home in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

"He was usually late, but he never promised he would be home at a certain time. It's hard to get him to promise to do anything because he doesn't want to break the promise.

"This time he had broken his promise, and I think that's what made him realize he had no control."

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