MIAMI Michael Irvin's mother always said when God closes a door, He opens a window. When the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, Feb. 3, Irvin noted the wisdom of his mother's words.
Those words reflect a change in his life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Irvin, a flamboyant 12-year superstar, clearly had Hall of Fame numbers in helping the Cowboys win three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. But he marred his career and his reputation in 1996 with a highly publicized felony cocaine conviction and four years' probation, followed by other drug-related legal troubles in 2000, 2001 and 2005.
On Saturday, Irvin said his election to pro football's highest honor took on special meaning coming during the same weekend that head coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, both committed Christians, were facing off in the Super Bowl.
"Because of those two men and the faith they've shown, coming in on the same game as Lovie and Tony are coaching is special because of the faith we share," said Irvin, who currently works as a commentator for ESPN and lives in the Dallas area.
Irvin's legal troubles and a neck injury in Philadelphia prematurely ended his playing career in 1999 and many believe kept him out of the Hall of Fame for the first two years he was eligible.
He had a brush with the law in the fall of 2005 when police found a marijuana pipe and other drug paraphernalia in his car, which he later said belonged to his brother whom he was trying to get off drugs. Irvin was not charged in the incident and said he has worked hard to erase the negative stains on his life and his career.
Irvin used his exclusion from the Hall the last two years as a chance to teach his two sons, Michael and Elijah, a lesson about life about the choices each person makes.
"I told them if I didn't get in, it was a lesson learned," Irvin recounted. "It would have been hard lesson, but sometimes lessons are hard and painful."
Irvin's wife Sandy and his mother Stella both were present for Saturday's Hall of Fame announcement. Irvin's father Walter, who died in 1983, was pastor of a Baptist church in Florida for 20 years.
Sandy Irvin said seeing what her husband had come through and the steps he is making in his personal faith made it a special day with or without any football honors.
"I knew his faith was coming [along]," she said. "God was doing something in him, because he was getting ready for all of this. This is not about the Hall of Fame, not about TV or the Super Bowl. He is building Michael for something greater."
Irvin and his wife are active members of the Potter's House church in Dallas, where the pastor, T.D. Jakes, is discipling the formerly self-styled "Playmaker."
"Bishop Jakes is going over with me what's really important now," Irvin said. "We're getting into the Word."
"He takes time with Michael," Sandy Irvin said of the relationship between her husband and his pastor. "The Super Bowl may be the biggest sporting event in the world, but God is going to get His glory in this."
Irvin's mother said her son's latest rush of fame may prepare him for even a greater role.
"He could be a preacher just like his father. Look at him, he is preaching now."