Michael Irvin makes perfect sense to me

So my man Michael Irvin, never at a loss for words, made some headlines over the weekend when he said on NFL Network that he would trade in his three Super Bowl rings and his Hall of Fame jacket to be a part of a team that had a perfect season.

At first blush, it seems perhaps a bit outlandish, but I can assure you that Michael does his homework and is well prepared (you should see the meticulous notes he brings to production meetings). The more I thought about his comments, the more sense it made to me.

Think for a minute about how many players have been on three championship teams. It’s not a small number. Consider the Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco and New England dynasties, or mini-dynasties, and you’re looking at a hefty group of players who have three or more titles. It’s a small sample size when compared against the number of men to have played this game, but still, you have some punters and long snappers in this mix.

Now consider how many men are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, roughly 250. So we’re talking about a more elite group, the best of the best. But again, you have a bunch of guys with three rings and the jacket. And it’s not something that particularly unifies them — there is no common bond between all the guys with three rings and a coat.

So here, courtesy of research guru Shaun Horrigan, is the list of men with three Super Bowl rings and a Hall of Fame ring (and this includes only those played during the Super Bowl era, and not guys like Otto Graham, who are HOFers and won three or more titles pre-Super Bowl):

Mel Blount – 4 (titles)
Terry Bradshaw – 4
Joe Greene – 4
Jack Ham – 4
Franco Harris – 4
Ted Hendricks – 4
Ronnie Lott – 4
Joe Montana – 4
John Stallworth – 4
Lynn Swann – 4
Mike Webster – 4
Steve Young – 3 (1 as starter, played in 2)
Herb Adderley – 3
Michael Irvin – 3
Troy Aikman – 3

It’s a tremendous list, for sure. It’s also about to grow with Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice and others from that era to join, plus Tom Brady and other Patriots, too. But it’s fairly disparate, of guys from different dominant teams in different eras. Most of these men probably have never thought about such a list or even tried to quantify their greatness in such a way.

For now, at least, the list of players to have been a part of a perfect season is finite, and unchanged.

We all know only one team in football had a perfect season (OK, modern football history). We know what a bond has forged for the 1972 Dolphins and how they cherish it, prize it, and in many cases hope it is never duplicated. We remember the names of the players on that team and, as of now, unless the Colts or Saints pull this thing off, there are only 22 starters who have accomplished this feat, only one roster of men to ever stand an entire NFL season victorious.

I can see how a Hall of Famer such as Irvin, obviously forever linked to guys like Emmitt  and Troy, still could pine for something more, something greater. The way those ’72 Dolphins still gather together, rally around their cause, is unique. They can lay claim to something no one else can.

That will live with those men in a way that even multiple championships, or enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, possibly never could. It defines all of their athletic achievements and makes them part of something bigger than themselves in a way perhaps nothing else can.

Football is the ultimate team sport, so being a part of the ultimate team should be what it’s all about, the ultimate achievement. Personally, I still say the Saints and Colts should play for the Super Bowl at the expense, possibly, of that perfect season. But for someone as competitive and driven as Irvin to be willing to give up all those other accolades to have what the ’72 Dolphins have indicates the reverence there is for perfection.

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