The 15th of 17 siblings, Irvin was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He first attended Piper High School then went on to become a football star at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. He was heavily recruited by the University of Miami to play for the Miami Hurricanes, one of the top collegiate football programs in the nation. At Miami, under coach Jimmy Johnson, Irvin set school records for career receptions (143), receiving yards (2,423—later broken by Santana Moss) and touchdown receptions (26). He was a member of Miami's 1987 national championship team, and made one of the most legendary plays in school history that year, scoring on a 73-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Steve Walsh that provided the margin of victory in Miami's triumph over archrival Florida State, which propelled them into the national championship game, the 1988 Orange Bowl, against the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
Irvin skipped his final year of eligibility at Miami and declared for the 1988 NFL Draft.
Irvin was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.1985: 46 catches for 840 yards and 9 TD.
1986: 53 catches for 868 yards and 11 TD.
1987: 44 catches for 715 yards and 6 TD. 2 carries for 4 yards.
Irvin was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 11th selection in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He was the last first-round draft pick made by the Cowboys under the leadership of long-time general manager Tex Schramm, player personnel director Gil Brandt, and coach Tom Landry (Schramm predicted that Irvin would accelerate the Cowboys' "return to the living"). Irvin became the first rookie receiver in Cowboys' history to start a season opener in 20 years, in which he caught his first career touchdown. He also caught 3 touchdown passes in the Cowboys' win over the Washington Redskins, one of only three wins that season and the final one of Landry's career. He finished the season leading the NFC with a 20.4 yards per catch average.
The Cowboys misfortunes continued the following year as they finished with a 1–15 record, the worst in franchise history, while injuries limited Irvin to only six games, after he was on a pace to gain more than 1,000 receiving yards, until tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the San Francisco 49ers and being placed on the injured reserve list. The injury prevented him from playing until the fourth game of the 1990 season, but registered his first catch until the seventh game and finished with just 20 receptions for 413 yards, but also averaged 20.7-yards per catch.
In 1990, under the strength of players such as Jay Novacek, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith, the team began to improve, finishing the season with a 7–9 record, and posting an 11–5 record in 1991. Irvin was a major reason for their playoff season of 1991, finishing with 93 receptions (second on the league), 1,523 receiving yards (led the league), 8 receiving touchdowns and set a franchise record with seven 100-yard games. He made the All-Pro team that year and was selected to the first of five consecutive Pro Bowls.
From 1991 through 1998, Irvin recorded 1,000-yard seasons in all but one year, racking up an impressive 10,265 yards over an eight-year span. Along the way, the Cowboys made four straight appearances in the NFC Championship Game (1992–1995) and captured three Super Bowl titles with back-to-back wins over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
His best season was in 1995, when he set franchise records for receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,603), while also scoring 10 touchdowns and setting an NFL record with 11 games with over 100 yards receiving. He added seven receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game en route to the Cowboys' third Super Bowl win in a span of four seasons.
Irvin is the only player to play for each of the first four Cowboys coaches since the team has been owned by Jerry Jones (Landry, Johnson, Barry Switzer, and Chan Gailey). Irvin officially announced his retirement after Dave Campo became the fifth Cowboys coach, but Irvin never played on the field for Campo.
Irvin won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
In 1992 and 1993, Irvin was a key player on the Cowboys' Super Bowl teams. In 1994, he enjoyed another stellar campaign with his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season, but that year the Cowboys lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. For his part, however, Irvin had one of the most productive games in NFL playoff history, with 12 catches for an NFC championship record 192 yards and two touchdowns.
One of his greatest performances was in Super Bowl XXVII, where he caught seven passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. His two touchdowns catches were both in the second quarter and occurred in a span of just 18 seconds, the fastest pair of touchdowns ever scored by one player in Super Bowl history. He also became only the second player ever to score 2 touchdowns in one quarter of a Super Bowl, after Washington Redskins wide receiver Ricky Sanders in Super Bowl XXII.
Irvin was also a key contributor in the Cowboys victories in Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXX, recording five receptions for 66 yards in the first one, and five receptions for 75 yards in the second.
Recovered from his collar bone injury, Irvin returned to have very solid years in 1997 and 1998. During the fifth game of the 1999 season, Irvin was tackled at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia by Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Tim Hauck and went head-first into the turf.
Irvin was carted off the Philadelphia field on a stretcher as Philadelphia's fans cheered, and the play in Philadelphia proved to be his last. He sustained a non-life-threatening cervical spinal cord injury and was subsequently diagnosed with a narrow spinal column (cervical spinal stenosis), which forced him into early retirement.
Irvin later told talk show host Jim Rome that he accepted Eagles fans cheering his injury because he'd been "killing them for 10 years".
Irvin was the last Tom Landry-coached player to retire from the NFL. Tom Landry died in the months between Irvin's last game and his official retirement announcement.
Irvin finished his career with 750 receptions (tied with Charlie Joiner for 30th all-time in the NFL) for 11,904 yards (21st all-time in the NFL) and 65 touchdowns. His 47 100-yard receiving games is eighth most in NFL history, tied with Torry Holt. Irvin was selected to five Pro Bowls (2 more than any other wide receiver in franchise history) and was named the MVP of the 1992 Pro Bowl (following the 1991 season) after catching 8 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the NFC's 21–15 triumph. Irvin was a key playmaker for the Dallas Cowboys that won 6 division titles and three Super Bowls. As part of Dallas' starting lineup on offense, Irvin was a consistent force to be reckoned with in the regular season but he also excelled in postseason play where his six career 100-yard receiving days are just two shy of the NFL mark held by Jerry Rice (8). His 87 postseason receptions place him second in NFL playoff history, again behind Rice (151), and his 1,315 postseason receiving yards ranks second to Rice (2,245), a Hall of Fame inductee.
At 6'2" and 207 pounds, Irvin was a big, physical receiver who manhandled cornerbacks and often was able to make tough catches in defensive traffic. In part because of Irvin's ability to push off the defender with such ease, the NFL eventually changed its rules to adjust to wide receivers who emulated Irvin's physical style.
For Dallas, Irvin was a vocal, emotional leader, who set every significant career receiving mark in team history, including catches and receiving yards. At the time of his retirement, he owned or was tied for 20 Cowboys receiving records. Despite his "Playmaker" style on the field and flashy personality that was evident in his animated, brash commentary as a top NFL analyst for ESPN, Irvin is most remembered by his fellow Cowboys as a consummate teammate. As Fox's Daryl Johnston told a national conference call: "Michael was the hardest working guy on our team. ... He was a guy who made some wrong decisions, but he never took anything public, and he never spoke out against anyone on our team. He wasn't a problem. He was more of an inspiration." Currently, Irvin has high regard for players who are from as he likes to call the University of Miami, "The U," such as Frank Gore and Edgerrin James.
Along with his former Cowboy teammates Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, Irvin was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor on September 19, 2005.
Irvin became eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He was not selected, however, in 2005 or 2006, his first two years of eligibility. However, on February 3, 2007, his third year of eligibility, Irvin was elected as one of the class of 2007 enshrinees, alongside Thurman Thomas, Bruce Matthews, Roger Wehrli, Charlie Sanders, and Gene Hickerson. Irvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 4, 2007 in Canton, Ohio.
Irvin became one of three former NFL players with Cowboys ties selected for induction into the 2007 class of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, all of whom were inducted at a February, 2008, ceremony in Waco, Texas. (The other players were Jim Ray Smith of the Cleveland Browns who finished his career with the Cowboys (1963–64) and Ray Childress a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Houston Oilers who wrapped up his NFL career with the Cowboys in 1996.) In 2007, he was named to FHSAA's All-Century Team that listed the Top 33 football players in the state of Florida's 100-year history of high school football.
On August 4, 2007, Irvin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, delivering a tearful acceptance speech in which he referenced both his life as a football player and the many mistakes he has made in his life. His speech has been praised by many NFL commentators as heartfelt, including those who had been inclined to dislike him.
On October 14, 2007, Michael Irvin accepted his Hall of Fame ring at Texas Stadium during halftime of the Dallas Cowboys–New England Patriots game. In his speech, he proposed to Commissioner Roger Goodell that all drafted rookies will have a tour of Pro Football Hall of Fame to better understand their football history.
In 1996, as the Cowboys prepared to play the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game, media reports stated that Irvin and teammate Erik Williams, while under the influence of cocaine, had sexually assaulted a Dallas Cheerleader, Nina Shahravan, and, with a gun to her head, videotaped the interaction. Despite Williams' and Irvin's denials of the allegations, the story overshadowed the game, which the Cowboys lost. The accuser was later proven to have fabricated the entire incident. She recanted her story, pled guilty to perjury and filing a false police report, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a fine.
A year following his retirement from the NFL, Irvin again was arrested on drug possession charges. In this case, Irvin was in a Dallas apartment with an unrelated woman. Neither answered the door when police drug task force agents arrived with a search warrant. Police entered the apartment forcibly, finding drugs. Irvin and the female were placed under arrest, though charges against Irvin were later dropped.
Irvin was pulled over in Plano, Texas, for speeding on November 25, 2005. Irvin was arrested on an outstanding warrant on an unpaid speeding ticket in Irving, Texas, but was also cited for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after police searched his car and found a pipe, and plastic bags with marijuana residue. Irvin was arrested for a Class C misdemeanor. He was later released on bond.
On December 1, 2005, ESPN suspended Irvin for the Sunday and Monday night Countdown shows on December 4 and December 5, 2005. He returned to both shows with no mention or consequence of the past incident.
On July 4, 2007, Irvin was accused of sexual assault while he was at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Charges were never filed, but a civil suit was filed against him in 2010. Irvin filed a $100 million defamation countersuit, which was dropped when the case was settled out of court in January 2011.
Irvin claims that he was a victim of a possible carjacking attempt while stopped at a light in Dallas on January 12, 2009. He filed a police report claiming that two men flashed a gun at him, but eventually drove away after commenting that they were Cowboys fans. Dallas police suspended their investigation two weeks later, stating that Irvin had not cooperated in the investigation and that without more information from him, they could not proceed.
In 2017, Fort Lauderdale police investigated Irvin for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in Florida on March 22. He denied the allegations. On July 24, the Broward County State Attorney's Office announced that they had closed the investigation and would not charge Irvin in the case.
Controversy continued to follow Irvin when during a November 2006 radio interview on the Dan Patrick show, Irvin joked that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's athletic ability may have been due to African-American heritage, and jokingly remarked that Romo's maternal relatives might have been involved with "slave brothers". Irvin later apologized. He explained himself saying, "this is how I joke around with Romo when we're playing basketball. There's a difference from me the player and me the broadcaster".
On February 17, 2007, during its late edition of SportsCenter, ESPN announced that Irvin was no longer with the network. ESPN Communications Vice President Josh Krulewitz said of Irvin, "We thank Michael for his contributions to ESPN and wish him well." However, eleven months later, in January 2008, Irvin rejoined ESPN as a host on ESPN Radio O&O KESN (103.3 FM) in Dallas, hosting The Michael Irvin Show. This locally aired program ended on February 5, 2010, and Irvin was let go after his contract expired. An ESPN spokesman cited declining ratings and that news of a lawsuit filed against Irvin for a 2007 incident "simply expedited the situation".
On an episode of The Rich Eisen Show Irvin admitted to having snuck out of the locker room during the halftime of Super Bowl XXVII to watch Michael Jackson perform the halftime show.
Irvin was a co-star in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Irvin also guest starred in Sandler's film Jack & Jill, which was released on November 11, 2011. He was one of the "Pros" on an episode of Pros vs. Joes, which pitted former professional athletes against average people. He was the host of 4th and Long, a football-themed reality series which aired on Spike TV. The winner, Jesse Holley, earned a spot at the Dallas Cowboys' training camp. Irving has a supporting role in the 2017 basketball drama Slamma Jamma as a sleazy sports agent.
Irvin spoke in a 2011 article in Out magazine. Irvin discussed his homosexual older brother, who died of stomach cancer in 2006. He claimed his initial feelings of homophobia in relation to his brother led to womanizing during his playing days, but eventual acceptance and feelings of love toward his older brother initiated his understanding for people with difficulty sharing their circumstances.
In August 2011, officials from the Elite Football League of India announced that Irvin would be among the primary investors and advisers for the league. Other prominent American backers include former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, and NFL linebacker Brandon Chillar.