DALLAS — Nothing could stop the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s.
The team that closed the 1980s with a 1-15 record dethroned the San Francisco 49ers as the NFC's top dog by 1992. The Cowboys posted three Super Bowl wins in the span of four seasons, a feat not seen in the Super Bowl era and reminiscent of the dominance of the 1965-67 Green Bay Packers, who won three consecutive NFL Championships.
The only thing that could weaken the Cowboys were themselves.
All-Pro receiver Michael Irvin loved the high of winning a big game in a packed Texas Stadium; it is a thrill that is not easily duplicated, but the Playmaker would try to replicate it off the football field.
"I would go out and spend my offseason city to city chasing women, drinking, getting high, doing those things," Irvin told NFL Films in 2007's "Michael Irvin: My Road to Canton."
According to Irvin, the last day of his partying would always be the second week in March or March 5, given that the date was his birthday.
"So, in my pea brain up here, I had rationalized that I could have all the fun in the world and have one final birthday party and then, bam, I start training," said Irvin. "And then when I start training, I went back and all I did was play football."
On March 3, 1996, with minutes to go until midnight, four Irving Police officers arrived at room 624 at the Residence Inn. According to a Sports Illustrated article from April 1, 1996, the hotel manager complained of noise and suspected prostitution.
"We could tell there were a number of people moving around," Officer Matt Drumm said. "When we did get the door [partially] open, they had the security bar on it. A big cloud of marijuana smoke came out."
According to police, they discovered two dinner plates with cocaine on one and cocaine and marijuana on the other.
One of the men emerged and asked if they knew who he was.
Drumm, a Cowboys fan, knew who Michael Irvin was.
"They came in the room and they found me and the women and the drugs," said Irvin. "To be in that room, that was quite a low."
Irvin was released at around 1:15 a.m. on March 4, but he was hardly in the clear. Dallas County prosecutor Norm Kinne said he did not believe just former Dallas tight end Alfredo Roberts and 21-year-old Jasmine Jennifer Nabwangu were responsible, and he was frank in his meeting with Irvin.
"I had a meeting with Kinne. He said to me, 'Michael, I don't care what happened. I think you're a piece of [crap].' And then that whole competitive thing jumped up in me. I said, 'Okay.' So, the next day, I did have on a mink coat figuring I would turn the media. They'll be talking more about the mink coat than anything. And actually that's what happened," said Irvin.
Irvin pleaded no contest to the cocaine possession charges. In the courtroom, he saw a familiar face who had been one of his loyalist supporters since 1989.
"I turned around and saw Troy [Aikman] there," Irvin said. "It was something hard to explain to see him do it without me asking. As a matter of fact, without me saying don't do it more than anything. It meant to world to me, and that I will always remember."
Although Irvin wasn't going to take punishment from the law, the NFL had other plans. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended Irvin for the first five games of the 1996 season.
"When I got into my situation in Dallas, quite honestly I remember apologizing after I had my trial," Irvin told NFL Films in 2000. "And I remember just thinking, 'God, I took something away from Dallas there.' Because that thing overtook Dallas, the whole situation. We were right in the middle of a Super Bowl celebration. We never really had a chance to really finish celebrating the Super Bowl. And it took something away from it. That I regret. I regret taking Dallas through it."
Cornerback Deion Sanders was irate with Irvin.
"We had a candid conversation in his driveway, and I was just going off," said Sanders. "I was mad. I was, like, 'Man, we can't win without you. We've proven that.'"
Sanders would catch a career-high 36 passes for 475 yards and a touchdown as he filled in as a Cowboys receiver during Irvin's five-game suspension, which resulted in the Super Bowl champions starting the year 2-3.
"I don't think I was ever the same after that," Irvin said. "I just didn't feel like I could express myself the same. It was always something held back, maybe it was something that was killed or died in me during that time. It was never the same after that."
Irvin never got close to replicating his 111-catch season from 1995. The Cowboys appeared to be back to their postseason ways with a 40-15 pulverizing of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card game at Texas Stadium.
However, Irvin broke his collarbone early in the divisional playoffs the next week at Carolina, and the Panthers, in their second season of existence, knocked off the Cowboys 26-17. The Cowboys never got out of the divisional round with the Triplets of Irvin, Aikman, and running back Emmitt Smith again. In fact, since Irvin's arrest, the Cowboys have never made the NFC Championship Game.
Though Irvin fell from the greatest of heights, he has used it as an example of redemption and grace.
"Somebody asked me the other day, what do you tell your kids, Michael, with you being an athlete and a role model," said Irvin. "What do you tell your kids? What do I tell my kids? Hey, look, Daddy made mistakes. Look, you're going to make mistakes. That's okay. Get back up and let's fight again. That's the greatest thing football has taught you. Football has taught you no matter how bad you got beat, no matter how bad somebody beat you down, there will be a next week. Get back up and let's fight again."
What are your memories of the Boys will be Boys years of the Cowboys? Share ‘em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.