Palm Beach Post – Sep 21, 2005 – Hal Habib – Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman entered the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor on Monday night, rekindling memories of glory days for the big, blue star.
Honor and glory aren’t what you would associate with what happened five years ago, when Smith rang up Irvin, his former teammate, seeking moral support, if not to give Irvin an earful about his receiving brethren.
One day earlier, then-San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens had Smith and all of Texas Stadium aghast by dancing all over the Cowboys’ star at midfield. Certainly, we have better perspective now. We expect more ingenuity Sunday when Owens and the Eagles face Randy Moss and the Raiders in Philadelphia. But in 2000, trampling all over a star qualified as hot stuff for wide receivers.
“What about… ?” was as far as Smith got before Irvin cut him off at the pass.
“If you had a problem with what he did, why didn’t you win the game, and it would have fixed all that?” Irvin barked. “Then it would have made him look like a fool. So don’t come calling me because he stepped on your star. You should have stepped on his head after he stepped on your star. It was early in the game. You guys went on and let them beat you anyway.
“Shut up. Goodbye. Get off the phone, man.”
Today, Irvin, the former University of Miami star and current ESPN analyst, slips into a droopy, wistful tone Ã¢â‚¬â€? if you can imagine thatâ€? as he recounts Smith’s reaction:
“Yeah…. I guess you’re right.”
Didn’t Smith know whom he was calling?
“I am the original,” Irvin says. “Those are my disciples.”
The original what?
“The original diva.”
For sheer entertainment value, you have to give props to today’s wide receivers. They’ll also be happy to supply their own. Sharpies, cellphones and Pepto-Bismol have become essential accessories for the men whose ability to grab footballs is matched only by their ability to grab headlines.
With Diva Bowl I around the corner, Irvin, the former first down-signaling, fur coat-wearing “Playmaker,” figures he deserves credit and blame for what receivers have become.
“I get phone calls from receivers in the league now, the guys who we would call divas: ‘Hey, man, we’re just trying to continue this thing you started,’ ” Irvin says. “I’m saying, ‘Ooooh, don’t take it too far.’ ”
Now what would make Irvin think these wide guys would do that?
The player who once asked teammates to cut him slack in practice because he just had his nipple pierced? That would be David Boston, now of the Dolphins but then with Arizona. A receiver.
The player who quit football the night before a game, immediately was cut, but still figured he could show up for work the following Monday? Eddie Kennison. Denver. Receiver.
The player who dropped a touchdown pass, then reportedly pouted when his quarterback threw a TD pass on the next play to someone else? Moss.
At the height of Owens’ contract squabble with the Eagles this off-season, Moss, of all people, was asked if T.O. (Owens) needed a T.O. (timeout).
“Who am I to tell him anything?” Moss said. “I’m Mr. Distraction myself.”
Sheesh. A distraction, and a diva.
“Man, that’s a damn women’s term,” says former Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton.” I don’t know who came up with bull like that.”
Clayton has a point. Webster’s defines a diva as, a leading woman singer, esp. in grand opera.” How about “flamboyant”?
“They’re all competitors,” Clayton says. “Them complaining about not getting enough balls or wanting to catch ballsâ€? that makes them divas?”
Them writing books about iâ€? Keyshawn Johnson’s Just Give Me the Damn Ball!â€? that doesn’t make them divas?
“I don’t know anything about the diva thing,” Dolphins receiver Marty Booker says. “To play receiver in this league, sometimes you have to be demanding and selfish.”
Across the room, Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers is asked about all those times he wanted to pull a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph a touchdown ball, like Owens.
“Never,” Chambers says. “Never, never, never, never. I wouldn’t even think to do anything like that. I wouldn’t even want that much attention. It’s unnecessary and sometimes it can backfire on you. I just feel like being a professional.”
Chris Chambers: good receiver, lousy diva. Right?
“You know what’s so crazy about it?” Chambers says. “In high school, I played basketball and I was a trash-talker. Basketball is such a one-on-one sport and if I know I’ve got the ability to beat the guy, I can talk trash.”
Chambers says he doesn’t lack confidence in football, just opportunities like Owens and the Bengals’ Chad Johnson, who see enough passes to stack up 1,000-yard seasons.
“I think once I’m at that level, I don’t know how I’ll be acting,” Chambers says.
Johnson also is the guy who sent cornerbacks Pepto-Bismol to cure the nausea he planned to inflict on them.
“My mom loves Chad Johnson,” Chambers says.
Chris Chambers: diva-in-training?
“I haven’t heard that term, but it’s definitely the position to be,” Chambers says of receiving, not diva-ing. “You go back to when you’re growing up, man. Everybody wanted to be a receiver. Everybody wanted to score touchdowns.”
John Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist, says Chambers has latched onto something.
“He’s the big playmaker,” Murray says of a star receiver. “He’s the guy who has to make it happen, and he’s got to get the attention of the quarterback. He’s got to be fearless because people are trying to take his head off going over the middle. They have to be agile yet durable and certainly expressive in a very showmanlike way.”
Irvin, whose 12-year career was shortened by a neck injury, knows about risks and rewards. If a lineman misses a block, Irvin says, it could go unnoticed.
“If you drop that ball out there, everybody knows: ‘Man, Michael blew the game,’ ” Irvin says. “Jackie Smith. Tight end. Dropped the ball. That’s the only thing I know of him, because he had it right here in his hands. Now, you make the play… The Catch. Everybody remembers it.”
It’s what separates Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith, who dropped a touchdown pass in a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII but otherwise had a Hall of Fame career, and 49ers receiver Dwight Clark, whose last-minute TD beat Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship game.
Clayton caught 79 touchdown passes from Dan Marino, yet says he never felt more pressure than when Marino threw one encore ball to him to end his Hall of Fame induction speech last month. Still, Clayton celebrated that catch with a few simple high-fives.
“These cats now, these are a different breed of receiver than we were,” Clayton says. “They’re way more flamboyant … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”
Jets coach Herm Edwards, a former defensive back, wonders if perception has changed more than receivers.
“You go back to the days I played in the late ’70s and early ’80s, you had guys like that, but the TV coverage wasn’t so immense,” Edwards says.
Perception plays a role. Joe Horn’s image was as the showboat who pulled a hidden cellphone from a goalpost, but that might be changing as he poignantly speaks of the Saints trying to give fans “some kind of hope” after Hurricane Katrina.
Even Owens has a flip side. He’s auctioning his NFC championship ring from last season on eBay to raise money for Katrina victims.
Isn’t this what divas do, keep you guessing? Maybe it just takes a diva to know a diva.
“Everybody’s got a little bit of diva deep down inside,” diva Kristen Bentley says. “We all want to be that star.”
Bentley is president of Chrome Divas Inc., a 1,000-member group of motorcycle-riding women (although by day she’s a 32-year-old court reporter in Tallahassee).
Bentley says Owens chalks up diva points for the Sharpie, but what clinches his position as leader of the pack is the “Chocolate Room,” his chocolate-colored VIP lounge that requires an electronic pass code for entry.
The Chocolate Room is in his house in Atlanta. Owens is single.
“I wonder what kind of chocolate he has in there,” Bentley says. “If he has Godiva chocolate, now, he’s a diva.”
If it’s Russell Stover?
“You don’t need an entry code for that,” Bentley says.
Former All-Pro receiver Cris Collinsworth welcomes women into this equation. Collinsworth cringes at the soap opera between Owens and his quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
“Probably more than anything else, he needs a wife, honestly,” Collinsworth said last week on HBO’s Costas Now. “If he had a wife, the minute he takes after Donovan McNabb, his wife would have said, ‘What are you doing? Pick up the telephone and call him and apologize. You’re so out of line.’ ”
To which fellow panelist Tim Russert said, “Of course, if he had a wife he would say, ‘Honey, you’re lucky to have me.’ ”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.