The announcement came down like last Saturday's snow in Detroit, leaving me cold.Troy Aikman, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Michael Irvin, 0-for-2. What an injustice. Then again, now that Warren Moon and Harry Carson also have been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the name should be changed. Just call it the Hall of Very Good and allow the 39 media members who vote to run one long, bleeding-heart Statue of Liberty play. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of very good, very likeable players. Sure, why not make Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward the first active Hall of Famer? Good guy, very good player. Why not shoo in NFL MVP Shaun Alexander? Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy suffered a devastating home playoff upset on top of a personal tragedy. Give him a break. Induct him now. Great guy. Very good coach. Give me a break. My definition of a Hall of Famer is a player with obvious, transcendent, game-changing greatness. My test is simple. I just ask, Hall of Famer? If I have to think about it, I say no. Moon? Well... Carson? Uh... Reggie White? No doubt. Irvin? Yes! But of course, during his playing days, Irvin was a first-ballot, off-the-field Hall of Shamer. I wrote two books and hundreds of columns about Michael Jerome Irvin's Dallas Cowboys. I'm an expert on his after-hours life of drugs, strippers and unsavory associates. Irvin was one bad man -- in the clubs and the clutch. So flawed as a person, so all-time great as a player. And that's the ongoing problem: Irvin's behavior distorted many a fan's -- and sportswriter's -- view of Irvin's performance. Only if you can look past the cocaine and the babes can you clearly see a receiver who deserved to be in the Hall of Fame at least one year ahead of his quarterback, Aikman.
The Hall's bylaws clearly state that on-field performance should be all that matters to voters. If that's the case, how can you exclude for two years in a row the most valuable player on three Super Bowl winners?Trust me, Aikman wasn't the MVP of those Cowboys teams. Neither was the great Emmitt Smith. No. 88 was. Of course, Jerry Rice is widely acknowledged as the greatest receiver ever. But if you had replaced Irvin with Rice, those Cowboys teams wouldn't have been as successful. As productive as Rice was, he wasn't nearly the leader and presence that Irvin was. Irvin was the Cowboys' rocket fuel in the locker room, in the huddle and on third-and-got-to. Irvin made the play. Emmitt fed off Irvin's got-to-win fury. When in doubt, Aikman threw it in Irvin's direction and trusted No. 88 would do whatever it took -- push off, take a potentially lethal hit, suddenly get faster than he was -- to catch it. As deadly accurate as robo-quarterback Aikman could be, his circuits could be easily shorted by adversity. If the Cowboys were losing, Aikman could lose his cool and aim. He wasn't Marino or Elway. He wasn't capable of carrying a mediocre team into the playoffs. Stick him in Arizona, and he would have been just another up-and-down Cardinals quarterback. He needed Emmitt and tight end Jay Novacek. He needed one of the greatest offensive lines ever. And he often desperately needed the security blanket that was Irvin. Aikman was a great QB cog for an all-time great offense. But he wasn't an all-time great quarterback or a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Neither was Steve Young, but don't get me started. It isn't the Hall of Very Good Guys Who Threw Six TD Passes Against The Worst Team Ever To Play In A Super Bowl. Young played in and won one Super Bowl over the 1994 San Diego Chargers of Stan Humphries and Natrone Means. At least Aikman has three rings -- and might have had four if Deion Sanders hadn't gotten away with an obvious pass interference on Irvin in the NFC Championship Game against Young's 49ers. You had to hang around those Cowboys teams as much as I did to understand how much more Irvin meant in the locker room than Aikman or Emmitt did. Though Irvin's impact was somewhat limited by the position he played, his psychological affect on his team reminded me a little of another superstar I covered in Chicago -- Michael Jordan. Like Jordan, Irvin played with a rage to conquer. And to enjoy the spoils of victory. Irvin was driven to win and to celebrate -- to make a postgame entrance into a club wearing full-length mink and to be offered the best (and worst) the city that idolized him had to offer. That's what drove a lot of those Cowboys. Truth be told, that's what drives many of today's players. But Irvin has had a propensity for getting caught. Off the field, he could be flamboyantly, brazenly stupid. Maybe that's still the case. In November, Irvin was arrested for an outstanding warrant on an unpaid speeding ticket, then arrested for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after police searched his car. Irvin said it belonged to a friend who was staying at his home and that he was going to throw it in a convenience-store dumpster. Opinion: That arrest was the foremost reason Irvin again was shut out of the Hall. And that's a crime. As Emmitt said: "It's not the Life Hall of Fame." Not the Hall of Role Models for Kids. But several voters I've talked to believe Irvin's work for ESPN also might have influenced other voters' thinking. I appreciate that Irvin can be the network's most opinionated NFL commentator. Others don't. Then again, I thought Irvin fell into the trap of exchanging cell-phone access to Terrell Owens for blindly defending him on the air. Others weren't upset by that. But the point is, what does any of that have to do with whether he should be in the Hall of Fame? Warren Moon is a great guy. His longtime agent and buddy, Leigh Steinberg, annually stages a favorite Super Bowl party of sportswriters. But should that put Moon over the top and into the Hall? Several voters have written that Moon's skin color had nothing to do with his selection. Yet for me, the trail Moon blazed as a black quarterback should be the main reason he's being inducted. Otherwise, he piled up a lot of passing yards in a run-and-shoot offense for teams that fell short in the playoffs. Moon, 3-7 in the postseason, wasn't a dominant player or leader. He was just very good. No Super Bowls, no rings, no Hall.
Please don't argue that he won all those Grey Cups. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has no Grey area. It shouldn't include Canadian Football League achievements.I do feel sorry for the Harry Carsons who year after year have had to endure the agony of the Hall call that never comes. Yet Carson has been so publicly critical of the voting process that it appeared he shamed selectors into finally letting him in this time. I'm sorry, but Carson was just a very good linebacker who played with a cinch Hall of Famer -- linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Why should "poor" Carson be allowed to dilute the Hall's stature? By the way, Taylor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer despite his cocaine problems as a player and his brazen lack of remorse over them. Yes, as a pure player, Taylor was a little better at his position than Irvin was at his. But if Taylor got in on his first try, Irvin should be going in on his second. I know Michael pretty well, but I'm not friends with him. I don't care whether he works for ESPN or if he has ESP. He shouldn't have to watch his quarterback deliver an acceptance speech next August.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.