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NFL Network Hauls in Irvin for Sundays

More proof that the NFL's own channel isn't a house organ afraid of risking controversy: The NFL Network will formally announce today that Michael Irvin will become one of its lead Sunday studio analysts.

Irvin's TV career seemed on hold indefinitely in February 2007, when ESPN didn't pick up the option on his contract.

His tenure there, which began in 2003, had sometimes been edgy. It included being suspended briefly in 2005 after a misdemeanor for possession of drug paraphernalia - which ESPN heard about from an inquiring reporter rather than from Irvin himself - and oddly suggesting on ESPN Radio that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's speed might have resulted from a maternal ancestor mating with a slave.

But Irvin was upbeat as he left ESPN, saying he was interested in acting - he'd been in the movie The Longest Yard - and needed more career "leeway" than he'd get there.

Now, however, Irvin says the key to his interest in TV involves his sons' football games. Son Michael, entering seventh grade, and Elijah, in sixth grade, are scheduled to play games that won't conflict with Sunday TV duties.

He recalls son Michael, seeing him getting ready to leave his Dallas-area home to go to ESPN years ago, asking his father whether he would ever be around to watch him play. Irvin answered that he was working hard so his son wouldn't face anything like his own impoverished childhood.

"And there we were in our 20,000-square-foot home, and he says, 'Dad, what are you talking about?' " Irvin said. "It was what the Bible calls a revelatory gift."

Plus, the NFL Network job won't conflict with Irvin's dancing: He says he practices three hours each morning, and often more at night, to prepare to be on ABC's Dancing With the Stars this season.

Irvin, after Sunday taping a preview show that will serve as his NFL Network debut when it airs Sept. 9, sounds ready to opine.

Irvin suggests that for the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick to compare NFL quarterbacking to riding a bike - you never forget how - wasn't so smart:

"Does (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell want you to be the star of the league early? I don't think so. Somebody should have gotten to Vick and said, 'Let's be humble.' "

And what if by, say, Week 6 the Eagles find themselves in a quarterback controversy over whether to sub in Vick for starter Donovan McNabb? Says Irvin: "I'm not sure you're going to have to wait that long."

So why did McNabb supposedly lobby the team to sign Vick? "I had to question that," Irvin says. "Did McNabb go to (the team) about Vick, or did they come to him?"

And when it comes to Brett Favre, Irvin says, "It's time to speak the truth." Which, he says, is that it's not anybody's guess whether Favre can turn the Minnesota Vikings into contenders. "The reality, as we all know, is that we've all been enablers here. Never has a quarterback not gone to a full training camp and then gone to a Super Bowl. It's never happened and never will happen, and I thank the football gods it won't happen. . . . So don't tell me it's anybody's guess. We know what will happen. But we love Brett Favre so much we won't say it, and it helped pressure Minnesota to get him."

One thing NFL Network won't have to worry about with Irvin on-air: Whether he'll speak up.

After Fox named a grand slam by the Chicago Cubs' Jake Fox against the New York Mets as its "Game Changing Play" Saturday, announcer Joe Buck@ wondered "would we pick him if his name was Jake ESPN?" Replied Tim @McCarver@: "Nah." He's right. You never hear Fox mention athletes named ESPN. . . . ESPN's Lou Holtz, on Sirius Satellite Radio, predicts Notre Dame - 7-6 last season - will play Florida in college football's title game given that the Irish, outside a game with Southern California, have an easy schedule. The good thing about weird predictions is that, if you ever luck out, you'll be the only one who got it right. So here's mine: An asteroid will hit that title game! . . . The Associated Press reports public records show boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. owes about $6.4 million to the IRS, prompting speculation that tax troubles motivated his coming out of retirement for his upcoming fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. But on Saturday's debut of HBO's 24/7 series about the boxers' fight prep, Mayweather was upbeat: "I've got a good relationship with the IRS."

On MLB Tonight today, Bob Costas narrates a feature on Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot-7 man who 58 years ago had an at-bat as a publicity stunt for the St. Louis Browns. Those were the days. . . . The Fox Business Network and the Tennis Channel, starting today, cross-promote each other with stock-market updates on the Tennis Channel's U.S. Open coverage and Fox Business running Open updates. . . . With NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN done with their NFL preseason games, NFL Network becomes the sole national carrier for this week's games.

Robert Gutkowski, former president of Madison Square Garden, is suing New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for breach of contract and fraud. Gutkowski, in a lawsuit filed Friday in a U.S. District Court in New York, claims he was the "conceptual architect" of the Yankees' YES Network, which launched in 2002, and that Steinbrenner reneged on a promise to give him a leading job on the regional channel. Steinbrenner spokesman Howard J. Rubinstein calls the accusations "false and frivolous."

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