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Catch This, Canton  

A Hall of Fame voter puts Michael Irvin in perspective

By Paul Zimmerman

Sports Illustrated

Five years from now Michael Irvin, who announced his retirement on July 11 after 12 seasons, will come up before the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. I can end the suspense right now and tell you that my vote will be a strong yes.

Irvin won't be a slam-dunk first-ballot choice: He carries too much baggage. He was loud and arrogant, defensive backs always complained about the way he pushed off, and he has a rap sheet for drugs, the same thing that produced a few negative votes in 1999 when Lawrence Taylor was up for admission. My vote, though, will be on performance, and Irvin -- who was the key pass-catcher on three Super Bowl champions, as well as an on-the-field leader -- is an easy choice.

Irvin is tied for 10th alltime in receptions. Let's look at the rest of the top 10, a list that makes up most of his competition for the Hall. Jerry Rice, the alltime leader, is a shoo-in. If Andre Reed, No. 2, doesn't catch on with a team this year, he'll be eligible at the same time as Irvin, and I'd vote for both of them; as a slot receiver, Reed was the key man in the multiple wideout offense that led the Bills to four Super Bowls. Art Monk, No. 3, has come up and been rejected; I would choose Irvin over Monk -- just not enough action downfield for Art. Cris Carter, No. 4 and still active, will be another easy choice. Steve Largent, at 5, is in the Hall. Henry Ellard, sixth alltime, will be eligible in four years, but I see him as a case of being not quite as good as the candidates he'll be up against each year. Irving Fryar (7) and Tim Brown (8) are still active. James Lofton, ninth alltime, has come up and has been rejected, despite my yes vote -- he was a more serious deep threat than any of the others in the top 10. If he's still on the ballot in five years, at the same time as Irvin, I'd probably go for both of them.

Finally, Charlie Joiner, who's tied with Irvin at No. 10 with 750 catches, is already in the Hall, and it's interesting to compare their numbers because they're so similar. Joiner had 242 more career yards and a 16.2 yards-per-catch average to Irvin's 15.9. They're tied with 65 touchdowns apiece. Joiner was a popular player, well-liked by everybody, hardworking, modest. But he was basically a workhorse, a cog in a great San Diego passing machine that had other weapons, such as Kellen Winslow and J.J. Jefferson and Wes Chandler. Except for the four seasons in which he teamed with Alvin Harper, Irvin and tight end Jay Novacek made up Dallas's passing attack. Irvin did it for many seasons without help, and he did it superbly.

Issue date: July 24, 2000

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, July 19. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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