Born at Fort Dix, New Jersey, LeRoy Irvin moved south and became a star on the gridiron at Glen Hills High School in Augusta, Georgia, then became one of the most prolific tacklers in school history at the University of Kansas. Selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round of the 1980 NFL Draft, Irvin made an immediate impact on the field.
The versatile pro set the single game NFL record when he racked up an astounding 207 punt return yards against the Atlanta Falcons in 1981.
Playing nearly a decade with the Rams,Irvin is one of only a handful of players in league history to be named All Pro at two different positions. Irvin was known as a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, recording nearly 40 career interceptions, returning a number of those for scores.
The 65-year-old father of four has collaborated with a number of former Rams in the years after his playing days. He, along with former Rams teammate Vince Ferragamo, founded End Zone Mortgage in Anaheim Hills, California. The defensive star also started a company with former teammate Eric Dickerson called Original Minis. The company held an NFL license and offered a line of NFL licensed collectible products.
In this exclusive interview with SC Daily the Pro Bowler talks about his favorite trading cards, Joe Namath’s influence, NFL entrepreneurship and much more.
Tony Reid-As a three time First Team All Pro, two time Pro Bowler and one of a very few players in NFL history to be named All Pro at two different positions, I’m sure you had a lot of young fans during your playing days. As a young kid, what athletes did you look to for inspiration?
LeRoy Irvin- I was a big Joe Namath fan. The reason is because I saw a picture of him walking down Broadway with two nice looking women with him. I figured if I could be Joe Namath I could get two good looking women, too! I followed his career. When I was in high school I loved O.J. Simpson. I know that it’s horrible to say today but I loved O.J. Simpson. I wore number 32 and I patterned my running skills after O.J. Simpson. I was a running back in high school. That parlayed into my pro career. When I moved to defensive back in college, I always prided myself on being a great runner which led to me being a great punt returner.
TR- Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
LI-That was at the Senior Bowl. I went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Some kids came up and wanted my autograph. Of course, I gave it to them. It was like “wow, have I made it yet?” I was asking myself that. Have I made it? Obviously, I hadn’t made it at that point.
TR–You have 40 different football cards listed in the database. Do you have a favorite card that you saw at some point during your career?
LI-The one I like was the one that the Roger Staubach Company (1994 Ted Williams Card Company “Roger Staubach’s NFL Football”) used to own. That was a great looking card.
The one that inspired me the most was the 1982 Topps Record Breaker card. They came out with my rookie card and a record breaker card. How can a record stand for 40 some years, man? It was 42 years ago and it still stands. That card means a lot to me because it solidified my own personal belief that I had arrived and that I had made it.
TR-To finally be immortalized on cardboard and in a record setting way had to be amazing. What was that feeling like seeing yourself on a card for the first time an under those circumstances?
LI-It was like a dream come true. The game in Atlanta when I broke the record, that was the first time my dad ever saw me play in a college or professional game. It was in Atlanta and I am from Augusta, Georgia. All of my classmates and schoolmates and friends were watching the game. It made it perfect. I was coming home. I set the record at home. It was an unbelievable feeling.
TR– We mentioned your great career and your accolades earlier. Do you have an office, at room or man cave with memorabilia displayed from your career?
LI-I give everything away. I have some Rosie Grier stuff and Deacon Jones stuff but I give all of my own stuff away. I don’t want to sit there and look at the memorabilia my whole life. The fans appreciate it more. They are the fans and they deserve to have it.
TR– You co-founded a company called Original Minis, the company held an NFL license and produced licensed products. Could you tell us a little bit about the business and the inspiration to start it?
LI-We met a gentleman who was making these mini jerseys in an 18×14 frame. Eric Dickerson and I were partners. We decided that was a great business. The guy approached us about getting an NFL license. We went to the NFL and got a license for that product.
We started doing chef coats, we started doing plush items and we decided to get out of the business about four years ago.
TR- The jersey swap is a new tradition in sports. It wasn’t a thing back in the day but if you could go back to your great career and stop anyone after a game, who would you want to trade jerseys with?
LI– I’m not trading jerseys! They are charging us for those jerseys. My first year I made $45,000 then $55,000 and then $75,000 and then $100,000. Uncle Sam was taking at least 25% of that. I didn’t have any money to swap a jersey. Had I had a chance to swap a jersey it would have been O.J. when he played for the 49ers in his last season. I would have approached him. Players do it now for charity. They use them for their charities. That is why they swap them now. Some are for personal use but mainly it’s for charity. It’s prearranged before the game that they are going to do it.