...and the replacement is Miles Austin.
In week 5, on October 10th 1999, Michael Irvin's career is ended with a serious neck injury.
In week 5, on October 11th 2009, Miles Austin's career is born with a break-out performance.
Almost ten years to the day, Michael Irvin was finally replaced.
Miles Austin might never reach quite as high as the legendary Hall of Famer did. But since Michael's retirement no WR has ever come close to filling his shoes as a player, teammate and leader. Miles Austin however has that chance.
Since Irvin retired after the 1999 season Dallas has tried very hard, probably harder than any position on the roster, to replace the great WR and the results have often been very poor.
***After Irvin retires Dallas sends 2 first round picks to Seattle for Joey Galloway. Injuries and inconsistent QB play keep Galloway from ever being close to worth that investment.
***Then another big splash. Terrell Owens. He brought even more flamboyance and spotlight to Dallas and his production on the field was Irvin-esque. But he was never, ever close to being the teammate and leader that Mike was. Mike created unity. TO created divisions. TO was cut for his declining skills and unproductive locker room antics.
***Still desperate for a long term #1 WR the Cowboys trade a first and a third to Detroit hoping to get the 2006 Roy Williams. A year and a half into that gamble and to put it politely (and I know some of you guys won't :) it looks at best like a long-shot that Roy will make that trade worthwhile.
3 first round picks, big contracts, expensive marquee FA signings etc. That's a lot of work and resources for very little reward.
But while those disasters we're unfolding a talented undrafted Free Agent named Miles Austin was working hard to move up the roster. While his entry into the league couldn't be more different than 1st round pick Irvin, there first four years are more similar than expected.
Despite showing great signs his rookie year Mike was derailed by a serious knee injury that hindered the next 2 seasons. Irvin's third season ended with 20 catches 413 yards (20.7 average) and 5 Td's.
Special teams play (and a 48 yard preseason TD from Romo against the Saints) helped Miles make the team. Since then he had slowly got more playing time but was often held back by inexperience and niggling injuries. Miles Austin's third season ended with 13 catches 278 yards (21.4 average) and 3 Td's.
But it was the forth year, about the age 25 for both players, that announced that a true #1 WR was back in the lineup and they were it.
Irvin's forth year (1991) saw him enter the season as starter. In his first game that year he let everyone know he was the guy. He torched Cleveland for 9 catches for 123 yards and a Td in the win. He went on to 93 catches, 1523 yards (16.4 average) and 8 Td's and a Wildcard playoff victory. The first Dallas playoff victory since 1986.
Austin's forth year (2009) saw him enter the season as a backup. An injury got him a start in week 5 and he let everyone know he was the guy. He destroyed KC for 10 catches, 250 yards and 3 Td's in the win. He went on to post 81 catches, 1320 yards (16.3 average) and 11 Td's and a Wildcard playoff victory. The first Dallas playoff victory since 1996.
Irvin carried on with his All-Pro level performances for the next several years. Being the #1 target of a great QB and pass orientated offense Austin has a chance to do the same. He also brings his obvious work ethic (any undrafted guy who becomes a star must have a great work ethic) and a team first attitude with a passion for winning. He's still developing himself so leadership is probably not in his cards just yet but he seems to have the prerequisite desire for future development here.
His overall game (both on the field and in the locker room) might not be Michael Irvin level yet. In fact it might never be Michael Irvin level. But when Miles Austin signs on that dotted line it'll be the closest thing to finally giving us, after many anguishing attempts, the home grown, play-making team first WR the likes of which we haven't seen since Irvin hung up his boots.
Ps. As we all know Miles didn't start until week 5 so he only started 11 games. If we take out the first four games he didn't start (5 catches, 81 yards, 1 Td) from his 2009 numbers, then divide what's left by 11 to get his starting game average figures, then times that by 16 for a full season;
110 catches for 1802 yards (16.4 average) and 15 Td's.
Another thing; look at Miles Austin's regular season finish (the December/January thing). 5 games, 39 catches, 496 yards and 3 Td's (plus a strong first playoff game 7, 82, 1). When the going gets tough Miles Austin gets going.