LeRoy Irvin spent a decade in the NFL and was widely considered one of the best cornerbacks of the era.
The versatile playmaker’s talent wasn’t exclusive to the defensive side of the ball as the Los Angeles Ram also spent time returning punts and still holds the single game record for punt return yards in a game with a staggering 207 yards.
In the latest in our Card Back Q&A series, the three-time First Team All Pro and two-time Pro Bowler talked about some of what you’ll find written on the back of his Topps cards from the 1980s. We discussed his memorable two interception Pro Bowl game performance, his cat-like reflexes and Miami Dolphins iconic quarterback Dan Marino calling him “a peeker.”
Tony Reid–1986 Topps noted your two interceptions to help the NFC win the Pro Bowl in 1986. You are known for your picks but what do you remember about what was once the NFL’s biggest player showcase?
LeRoy Irvin– We were in Hawaii in the Pro Bowl. I was going to the Pro Bowl every year from 1981-1984 and I finally got invited (to play) after the 1985 season. I was in a different place then. Before I was an NFL player going to the Pro Bowl watching the game. Now, I am in the Pro Bowl with all of the great ones. We had Marino, Rice, Montana, Lott, Dorsett, the names go on and on. You couldn’t have scripted it better. A kid who came out of Augusta, Georgia. No one wanted to give me a scholarship in college. I had no offers. Then to be in the Pro Bowl, intercepting two passes and being a four time All Pro, it was a dream come true.
TR–Your 1987 Topps card says “Leroy’s cat like skills make him both a great pass and run defender.” Can you speak to your instincts, skillset and what you used to become an All Pro and a Pro Bowler?
LI– I owe it all to (former teammates) Pat Thomas, Rod Perry and Steve Shaffer. Pat Thomas and Rod Perry groomed me to take their jobs. I almost want to cry talking about it. They are great friends of mine now. They knew I was coming to take their jobs and they taught me everything I knew. When I was at Kansas I left school as the all-time leading tackler in school history. That in and of itself made me a great tackler. I was always physical, being in the Big Eight. I averaged 15 tackles a game.
Now I am paying for it. My neck hurts, my back hurts, everything hurts. All of those factors came into play when it came time to consider who I was as a player.
TR-Your 1988 Topps cards states “Leroy is unusually adept at using his vision to read the eyes of the QB, giving him a great jump on defending the passing game.” You had nearly 40 career interceptions, snagging 4,5,6 or more each year for the better part of a decade. What created that anticipation that always had you in the right place at the right time and ready to make a play?
LI– Like Dan Marino said, I was a peeker. I would peek in the backfield. I would take chances. I would jump routes. Like the guys told me one time, if you aren’t number one now, you will be. We were ballers. We don’t give a damn about risking it all every time. That’s how I was. I didn’t care about risking it all. In 1986, I was named All Pro in the first part of December. It was my first All-Pro season. Dan Marino came into town. I gave up one touchdown all year, to Dwight Clark. Marino beat me for three touchdowns with one in overtime to Mark Duper. After the game they asked Marino why he went after Irvin and he said ‘Because we knew he was a peeker.’ You live by the sword and you die by the sword.
More Q&A with LeRoy Irvin on his career, his favorite cards, signing his first autographs and why he’s given most of his memorabilia away.