Though Irvin said little publicly in the two weeks leading up to the game, he clearly saw his return as an opportunity for healing. Once among the most popular personalities in Texas, he worried about the way he would be greeted by Cowboys fans, many of whom had been disillusioned by his arrest and the attendant allegations of drug use and infidelity. On Saturday, in a taped appearance on a local cable show cohosted by Sanders and FOX-TV's Pam Oliver, Irvin said his suspension had allowed him to rediscover the joy of spending time at home with his family. Then he announced that his wife, Sandi, was pregnant with the couple's third child. Replied Sanders, "So, even though you haven't been working for the Cowboys, you have been working."
As damaging as Irvin's lifestyle choices had been to his image, he had turned off even more observers after his arrest with his flippant devotion to ostentatious behavior. From the time police officers burst into that hotel room and Irvin said, "Can I tell you who I am?" he became a lot less likable. Witness the way he approached the 800 hours of community service required under the terms of his probation. Irvin, according to sources, showed up one September morning at a south Dallas drug treatment center, where he was slated to do cleaning and repair work, with an entourage of seven associates. He was told to come alone the next day, and things have gone smoothly since.
When it came time for the pregame introductions, Irvin was greeted by a mixture of cheers and boos, the cheers perhaps winning out by a 3-to-1 margin. Oddly enough, one person rooting for the receiver, albeit from the privacy of his own north Dallas apartment, was Dennis Pedini, the former Irvin supplicant who last May sold videotapes to a Fort Worth television station that purportedly showed Irvin possessing cocaine. The 5'4" Pedini, a self-styled security consultant known around town as the Inch High Private Eye, served a 30-day jail term after a judge ruled that his sale of the tapes to the tabloid TV show Hard Copy in May was in violation of a gag order. In one of those little twists that make life fun, Pedini was released from Dallas County jail on Monday of last week, just four days after Irvin returned to practice with the Cowboys. Pedini, who served his sentence on weekends over the last four months, has been unable to find work and plans to leave Dallas soon for greener pastures. "I'm happy for Michael," Pedini said on Sunday. "If what he says is true—that he's spending more time with his family, that he's off drugs—then I guess it's all been worth it."
After watching the game from his sparsely furnished apartment, Pedini treated a guest to a ride in his black 1994 Ford Cobra, which he calls the Finkmobile and which contains a hidden video camera and microphone. While driving past the Cowboys Sports Cafe in Irving, a favorite hangout for Dallas players, Pedini blasted a tune by the late rapper Tupac Shakur that Pedini said was a favorite of his and Irvin's in the weeks following the March hotel incident. The song, Only God Can Judge Me, includes diatribes against the media and backstabbing hangers-on.
At roughly the same moment, only a few miles away, Irvin concluded his postgame press conference, signed a few autographs and slid into the passenger's seat of a white Mercedes S500. As the car pulled away, it was obvious that a part of the Cowboys' world had been righted—but only a part. Regaining their arrogant aura on the football field will be a much more complex process.