Michael Irvin is walking along the sidelines at the Rose Bowl before he gets to the exact spot on the field that he was looking for – the location where his life and the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys changed forever. "It was right here," says Irvin, standing near the southwest end zone where he caught the second of his two touchdowns in Super Bowl XXVII that clinched the first of three Super Bowls the team would win in four years. "This is where it all began."
It's appropriate that Irvin, who is walking beside former teammate Bill Bates and longtime Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano, is back at the site where their dreams of winning a Super Bowl were first realized. As they catch up on old times, they are joined by 44 regular Joes who are competing for 12 spots on Irvin's yet-to-be-named reality show, during which one winner will earn a spot on the Cowboys' training camp roster. The show is set to debut on Spike this spring.
Bates, who played for the Cowboys for 15 years after being an undrafted free agent (back when there were 12 rounds in 1983), and Avezzano, who was Dallas' special teams coach for 13 years and also recruited Bates when he was at Tennessee, were brought on by Irvin to be the coaches on the show. Bates will coach the six defensive backs who make the cut while Avezzano will coach the six wide receivers.
"This is the place where we became stars, where we won our first Super Bowl and became the biggest stars in Hollywood," said Irvin, who jokingly classifies himself as the "overlord" of the show. "Now we're going to give someone a shot at becoming a star as well."
Nearly half the field on this day is taken up by machinery resembling the NFL Combine that just wrapped up in Indianapolis. There's the 40-yard dash, long shuttle, short shuttle, broad jump, "L" drill and a few other tests designed to help Irvin, Bates and Avezzano choose the best dozen players from the group.
Also factoring in to the equation, of course, is the individual stories of each one of the players that for one reason or another never got a shot in the NFL. This is, after all, a reality show.
If personal stories factor largely into the equation, Brandon O'Brien and Roland Johnson seem to be shoo-ins to make the final dozen.
O'Brien, 26, is a 6-foot, 214-pound wide receiver prospect, who was trying out to play in the Arena Football League when he found out his brother, Roger, was going to Iraq for the first time as a member of the Marines in 2005. Before he left, O'Brien quit football and enlisted in the Marine Corps as well and soon joined his brother before returning home last year.
"Going from Iraq to here, I'm not really intimidated by anything after going through combat," said O'Brien, who was a walk-on at Kentucky. "I'm more relaxed than most because I've been through the worst."
Johnson, 23, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound wide receiver played high school football at Foster High in Richmond, Texas, before his football career was cut short when he decided to stay home and take care of his father who was diagnosed with a rare form cancer before he graduated from high school in 2004. He took care of his father for two years before he passed and has spent the past two years working at Sulzer Pumps in Brookshire, Texas.
"If my dad was here he would have been so proud of me," said Johnson. "He knew that football was what I always wanted to do and we used to watch the Dallas Cowboys so this would be a dream come true."
So do any of these possible "Invinceble" wannabes really have a shot to be the next Vince Papale and run onto the field at the new Cowboys Stadium on opening day? Looking at the resumes of the finalists, it seems unlikely.
But if there is even a glimmer of hope they'll make it past the first cuts, Irvin knows it will have to be on special teams, which is why he brought on Bates, a former special teams Pro Bowler, and Avezzano, one of the most respected special teams minds in football, as the coaches.
"I chose Joe and Bill for the simple reason that no one knows more about special teams than they do," said Irvin. "I mean this is really Bill Bates' story. This is a man who played 15 years for the Dallas Cowboys after walking on as an undrafted player. All he needed was an opportunity and he made the most of the opportunity. We'll see if the same can be said for the person who wins this."