If there was one thing I figured the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones would have learned from last season, it's that no news is good news. That less attention paid to off-the-field matters meant more attention paid to on-the-field matters. That reality television might not be the best route to making their Super Bowl aspirations a reality.
But what do I know? Apparently, all they need to cure their problems is an American Idol type reality show hosted by Michael Irvin, featuring Jones as a judge, promising a guaranteed training camp roster spot to some amateur contestant off the street.
As much as I want to bash the idea, I think it might work. Not that this unknown player will make the team (I'd be surprised if he made it past the first cut), but it will certainly add some intrigue and excitement to an otherwise humdrum beginning of training camp and, after all, isn't that what the Cowboys are around for?
After the news came out on this yet-to-be-named reality show, which will premier in the spring on Spike TV, I caught up with Irvin to talk about it:
Arash Markazi: This isn't a unique concept in terms of entertainment where you have reality show competitions for singing, dancing, comedy, modeling, you name it. But this is a first for a pro sports franchise. How did the idea come about and how were you able to make it a reality?
Michael Irvin: I've had this idea for a while. Everyone was talking about the reality TV craze, but I thought reality TV will be here today and gone tomorrow. But the first time I saw American Idol, I said now that's pretty neat. I'm sure when people saw that many of them thought it would be nice to give someone an opportunity or a chance in their profession. ESPN did it with Dream Job, and I know other networks had their own spin on it. So I came up with the thought of this show when I saw American Idol, and I thought it would be perfect for America's Team.
Now it's one thing to have the thought and it's another to find somebody who is willing to give a guy a shot with an actual NFL team. Even going farther than that, it's one thing to get a tryout with a team; but to say you got a tryout with America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, that's what I wanted. That's something way above and beyond what anyone thought was possible. It's a beautiful thing to be able to put out there, to find one guy and give him a contract and shot to make the Cowboys, if they earn it.
AM: So if this is going to be football's version of American Idol, do you see yourself being more like Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson or Ryan Seacrest?
MI: I'll be all of the above. I'm not just a host or a judge, I'm the "overlord." They threw that name around when I was in Hollywood, so I guess that's what I'm going to be.
AM: I know you have a good relationship with Jerry Jones, but how hard was it to convince him to give up one training camp roster spot for this show and also to be a part of the show as a judge?
MI: Jerry understands more than anybody what he has and what he's carrying. When I came to him he said, "Michael, I don't own the Dallas Cowboys, nobody owns 'America's Team,' it's my job just to carry the ball at this time." He wants to give back to the fans and what is America about? It's the land of opportunity, and he understands he's giving someone the opportunity of a lifetime. He understands that that goes with owning America's Team, that's what America is all about. We can't say this is what we are and not showing it, and I appreciate him stepping up and doing this.
AM: So there wasn't any hesitation on being a part of another reality show after doing Hard Knocks last year?
MI: No, he was totally on board with the show. This doesn't affect (the Cowboys) preparing for a season. We're just trying to find that diamond in the rough to hopefully add on to his season. The Cowboys will continue to do what they do in preparing for the season. We will be finding one guy to send to training camp and that's it. The Cowboys continue to do what they do and we made that abundantly clear to Jerry. We don't want to mess with or affect in any way the team preparing and getting ready for the season, but we want to give a guy an opportunity to be a part of that season.
AM: How do you think the winner will be accepted by Cowboys players when he walks into the locker room that first day of training camp?
MI: Well, guys in the NFL respect hard work. They respect when you earn something and it's not given to you. They respect that because they put in hard work to get to where they've gotten. Everybody in the NFL has earned what they got; don't tell me about how much money they make because they've earned it. They earned it because they put in the time. Those guys have earned their positions and this guy when he leaves this show will have earned his position on the Cowboys. Trust me, those guys will be watching the show and they will receive him with open arms because they'll know after we're finished with him, he will have earned his spot. They will probably have earned a spot more than some of the guys on the team after what we've put them through. Trust me, they'll receive him well.
AM: I heard there are going to be plenty of other familiar Cowboys faces on the show from week to week. Can you give me an idea of who else might be on the show?
MI: You name them and they'll be on the show. I'm serious. We're going to have all the big names. Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders. I'm expecting all those guys to come by. With what we're expecting in terms of attention and viewership with this show I don't doubt that they'll want to be a part of it. People generally want help young guys. When you're past your playing days, the best thing to do is either to broadcast or talk about the game or help young guys learn how to play the game. Anytime I've asked those guys to help out in (teaching) young guys about the game, they beat down my door when I ask them; so I'm expecting them to do the same with this.
AM: Do you think this concept would have worked with any other team besides the Dallas Cowboys, in terms of popularity and attracting viewers?
MI: I don't think so. I'm being honest with you. I don't think we could have done this show with any other team. With all that goes on around the Dallas Cowboys and being America's Team, that's the hook. Every kid that grew up playing in their front yard dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl -- that's what made them America's Team. So we're talking about giving someone that American dream with America's Team.
AM: Is this a one time show or do you see it as potentially an annual show like American Idol?
MI: Absolutely, we're looking for a second season and more after this; but first and foremost, we want to do a good job in season one. But we're expecting this to be a huge hit.
AM: How can someone who wants to be on the show try out and how will you select the six wide receivers and six defensive backs that will be on the show?
MI: We have a casting crew on the ground now, and I'll be working with former players and coaches in picking players; but anyone reading this that wants to be on the show can go to michaelirvin.com and apply to be a contestant.
AM: Finally, what kind of contestants are you looking for on this show? Are you looking for good athletes or good stories?
MI: Both. We will go and find athletes that can really perform and has a story to tell. These guys will have the talent but something made them give up their dream, whatever it is. We got one guy whose brother got shot while he was playing, so he gave up the game because on his brother's dying bed he promised he would take care of his brother's kids. It's not far from the some of the experienced I had while growing up, and I thank God that I had people in my life that kept me going and kept pushing me. But how many people didn't have that?