BEREA — Coach Rob Chudzinski should’ve known better. Scheduling Michael Irvin to talk for 45 minutes is like trying to squeeze a yard into a foot.
It’s not going to happen.
Irvin went an extra 35 minutes in his speech to Browns players Wednesday, delaying the final practice before the players broke for a four-day weekend. No question-and-answer session. Just 80 minutes of “The Playmaker” on what it takes to win a championship, the importance of making good decisions off the field and Cleveland’s love of football.
“I see the young talent on this team and it harkens me back to our early days in Dallas where you could see it,” Irvin told reporters. “You started to feel like, ‘Hey, man, we got a chance of doing something, man.’”
Irvin, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Cowboys, spoke as part of the NFL’s player-engagement program. Chudzinski chose Irvin to give the life-skills message because they were teammates at the University of Miami — winning a national title in 1987 — and Irvin has connections across the Browns organization.
Irvin won two Super Bowls in Dallas with offensive coordinator Norv Turner as coordinator. He won one with Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton as a defensive back. Russell Maryland, an assistant on Cleveland’s staff, also went to Miami and won Super Bowls with Irvin and the Cowboys following the 1992, ’93 and ’95 seasons.
“It’s one thing to say I have history with these people. It’s another to say my history has been championships with these people,” Irvin said. “Let me say that. My history has been championships with these people. Wherever we’ve gone and wherever we’ve had a chance to make a commitment with each other, we’ve made those commitments and ended up as champions.”
Horton called Irvin’s speech “unbelievable” and said the players listened intently the whole time.
“With him, the proof is in the pudding,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “When you see players that have done what he’s done, Pro Bowls, Hall of Fame, Super Bowl champions and so many receiving yards, touchdowns, everything that comes out of his mouth you have to respect it and listen to it.
“Not only the young guys, but the older guys. Everybody knows what it is to be in this league and just to hear how passionate he is about it, it really makes you look yourself in the mirror and be like, ‘Is this that important to me like it is to him?’”
Irvin had no doubt he had the room’s full attention.
“They were listening. I didn’t say they were hearing,” he said. “Hearing means I heard in my ear gate. Listening means it engrafted with my spirit. They were listening.”
Irvin’s primary message was the commitment to each other it takes to win a championship.
“Football teams, football organizations, they never win championships,” he said. “Only football families win championships.
“That’s what makes this game the greatest game in the world and unlike basketball, baseball or golf. In this game, you don’t do anything all by yourself and so it’s imperative that we all have an understanding that in order to get to where we want to be, where we leave our mark as a team, that we make that commitment. It’s not a physical thing. It’s not a shoulders down thing.
It’s shoulders up.”
The Browns got the point.
“He talked about holding each other accountable, making a commitment to one goal of winning and everything else will follow behind,” receiver Greg Little said.
Irvin has been mentoring Little and receiver Josh Gordon for a while, as well as others throughout the league. Irvin, 47, views it as part of his penance for the bad choices he made as a younger man.
“Anytime I see Mike he always has words of wisdom for me,” Little said.
“He’s been great to me,” Gordon said. “Our backgrounds are the same and we definitely relate to each other in a lot of ways. I look up to him. He’s a great guy.”
Irvin sees big things from Gordon, who has 35 catches for 626 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year.
“Phenomenal talent. Phenomenal, phenomenal talent,” Irvin said. “He can be considered one of the best in this league if he’s willing to make that kind of commitment. I talked to the guys, all of the guys, about spending their resources not towards their history, but towards their destiny.”
Irvin doesn’t shy away from his checkered past that includes drug use and arrests.
“The day has come now, my bad decisions, my son doesn’t have to go to the library. He punches in ‘Michael Irvin’ and ‘Enter.’ And they all come up,” he said. “So we have to make sure that we’re making better decisions for our future and all of our kids and stuff that are coming after us. That gives me peace to the bad decisions that I’ve made and I can at least talk to people and make sure they don’t make them.
“Don’t allow somebody to give you something in 15 minutes that’ll cost you 15 years.”
Irvin believes the Browns have the makings of something special, starting with Chudzinski and continuing with the coaching staff and talent on the roster.
“To have those kind of guys here, they know what it takes to get to a championship,” Irvin said. “All we need now is for everybody to give an ear and a heart. Listen to what they’re saying and give all you have and you can get there, too.
“I told them I know what football means in Dallas. That’s what football means in Cleveland,” he said. “These people here looove football. If you give them a championship, oh, my God. I said, ‘You’ll change your life’s path and the life path of your kids, because they’ll be remembered. They’ll love everybody that comes out of your loins, because your dad brought a championship to Cleveland.’”
The message resonated with Little.
“It means a lot coming from a guy like Mike because he’s not going to shoot you any (garbage),” he said. “He’s a straight shooter and you can see in his eyes he really means what he’s saying.”
All 80 minutes of it.