DALLAS -- The first time Michael Irvin watched "American Idol," he loved the concept of giving undiscovered singers the chance to become stars. Now Irvin is doing the same for NFL wannabes.
The Hall of Fame receiver is launching a reality TV show in which 12 "football neophytes" will compete for an impressive grand prize: a spot on the Dallas Cowboys' training camp roster.
"I don't know if you can walk upon any group of guys that wouldn't say they dreamed of playing in the NFL when they were playing in their front yard," Irvin told The Associated Press on Thursday. "So we're going to take a group of guys from their front yard, dwindle them to one and give that guy the opportunity of a lifetime."
The Cowboys confirmed that one of their 80 roster spots will go to the show's winner. The NFL did not immediately return a call.
The show, which doesn't yet have a title, will air this spring on Spike. It is being produced by the same company that's behind "The Biggest Loser" and many other reality TV hits.
Contestants are still being selected. They likely will need a football background -- just not too much. They also must be the right age, size and condition to handle an NFL training camp. The Cowboys open camp in late July in San Antonio.
"We want someone who will have a real opportunity to make the team," Irvin said. He also indicated the better the backstory, the better an applicant's chance of making the show.
"You could've played college ball and had to give up for some reason," he said. "You know how many stories are out there of players who for some reason or another had to walk away from the game. ... We want to find those guys."
Irvin will be the host and he expects to have guest appearances from friends like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Judges will include Jones and former players and coaches.
The show will pit six receivers and six defensive backs. As for how they will compete, all Irvin would say is: "Tune in and watch. It'll be groundbreaking in so many ways."
The winner's biggest payoff will be the fulfillment of playing for the Cowboys. While the rookie minimum is about $300,000, that's only if he makes the team. The salary in training camp is closer to $1,000 a week for an undrafted rookie.
Irvin said this is about far more than money. It's the chance to catch passes from Tony Romo or to line up opposite Terrell Owens.
"What young man do you know that's not going to read [about this show], then head straight to the gym and say, 'I'm going to get ready'? " Irvin said. "That's how this will inspire people."
Considering the Cowboys are coming off a disappointing season filled with all sorts of turmoil, adding a player more likely to be profiled in "People" than "Sports Illustrated" seems risky. It could be perceived as just another sideshow, like the cameras from HBO's "Hard Knocks" that tracked the team in training camp last year.
Yet Irvin, who hosts a local radio show that spends a lot of time analyzing the Cowboys, dismissed that notion.
"I don't see how you can make this a negative for the Dallas Cowboys," Irvin said. "We all talk of doing good things for the community, for people, giving people opportunities. Jerry has stepped up and said, 'OK, let's do it.' "
Even if this is considered a well-intentioned publicity stunt,
the Cowboys could be accused of wasting a roster spot, which may
not be so trivial.
Just last spring the league considered proposals to expand
training camp rosters from 80 players to 86, to replace the spots
lost by the end of NFL Europa. Players who went overseas were
exempt from the training-camp roster count, and teams could send up
to six. Tampa Bay even wanted to up the roster limit to 90. But now
Dallas will essentially be going with 79.
Team spokesman Rich Dalrymple compared this "signing" to when
the Cowboys added a Mexican national player before an American Bowl
exhibition game in Mexico in the 1990s. Dallas also signed two
Japanese players before a 2000 game in Tokyo, but they'd played in
Europe and were roster exemptions.