Michael Irvin lined up on Troy Aikman's left, ran his trademark slant to the middle of the field and cradled the pass between the 8s on his blue Dallas Cowboys jersey. The eight-yard gain late in the first quarter of a game on October 10 in Philadelphia was cause for celebration. It was the 750th catch of Irvin's career, tying him with Charlie Joiner for ninth in NFL history. But Irvin wasn't moving. He couldn't. Temporarily paralysed by a herniated disc, Irvin later learned he was lucky to get off that easy. Tests showed that he was born with a narrow spinal cord, a condition that made him vulnerable to much more serious injury. He faced that risk every time he stepped on a football field - and he never knew it. Now that he does, Irvin is not taking any chances. After delaying his decision for as long as he could, 'The Playmaker' was planning to announce his retirement in a news conference at Texas Stadium. Irvin has been uncharacteristically quiet since his injury. He has avoided reporters, stopped working out at team headquarters and hardly spoken to his closest friends on the team. The sombre exit is not the way most will remember Irvin, who over 12 years established himself as one of the top receivers and one of the biggest showboats the NFL has seen. As much as his pass catching helped the Cowboys return to glory in the 1990s, it was his swagger that truly sparked the revival of 'America's Team'. Dallas fans loved seeing No 88 motion for a first down after a catch, while his gyrations gave Cowboys haters another reason to grind their teeth. Yet no matter whether you rooted for or against him, he was hard to ignore. Irvin's flashy style overshadowed a leadership that also was vital in pulling the team from 1-15 in 1989 to Super Bowl champions three years later. Dallas went on to win titles in two of the next three seasons, too. Of course, it helped greatly that Dallas surrounded Irvin, their top pick in 1988, with Troy Aikman in '89 and Emmitt Smith in '90. Together, the threesome became known as the 'triplets' and were as devastating as any quarterback-running back-receiver trio in NFL history. Irvin, who beat defenders to the ball using smarts and size, finishes with 11,904 yards, ninth in NFL history. He holds nearly every major career or single-season Cowboys receiving record. For all his on-field accomplishments, Irvin will be remembered for some serious off-field problems. In 1996, Irvin was arrested in a motel-room drug bust on his 30th birthday. When his case went to trial, he arrived at court one day in a mink coat and sunglasses, then autographed a security guard's Bible. Then the trial was delayed when a Dallas police officer was arrested for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill Irvin. The receiver ended up pleading no contest to a felony drug charge. He received 800 hours of community service and four years of probation. Irvin also was suspended by the NFL for five games. His image and the team's were tarnished and he lost most of his endorsement deals. Controversy continued to dog Irvin. He was falsely accused of sexual assault in December 1996 and in training camp in 1998 he cut the neck of a teammate during a scuffle over a haircut. Despite his off-field problems, Irvin's statistics and championships make him likely to be one day inducted into the Hall of Fame. A Dallas Morning News survey last season of more than a third of the Hall of Fame voters indicated that Irvin's statistics and Super Bowl rings should overshadow his on-field theatrics and off-the-field troubles. 'It shouldn't even be a question of whether he's in the Hall of Fame,' Smith said. 'Look at his numbers. Look at his rings. The only thing that matters is what he did on the field.' Irvin's departure comes about six weeks after his good friend Deion Sanders left for Washington. Regardless of how their absence impacts the team, one thing is certain: it sure will be quiet in Dallas without them.