DALLAS -- Ever since Michael Irvin retired, he has heard that the Dallas Cowboys could use another wide receiver like him.
Irvin believes he's delivering that guy to them.
|Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press|
|Former North Carolina WR Jesse Holley won "4th and Long," the reality TV show organized and hosted by Michael Irvin.|
Jesse Holley -- a tall, flamboyant receiver with a great smile and plenty of charisma -- was revealed Monday night as the winner of "4th and Long," the reality television show organized and hosted by Irvin, a Hall of Famer.
Holley's prize is the 80th spot on the Cowboys' training-camp roster and a standard rookie contract. However, with Terrell Owens gone and few proven receivers left, Irvin believes Holley, 25, could be more than just a practice body.
"There's a great opportunity for my guy, Jesse, to do some wonderful things," Irvin told The Associated Press. "I think the world of Jesse. I don't think he'll let us down. I would not be a bit surprised if you guys end up saying, `Wow, look at what this guy has become.'"
Holley outlasted five other receivers and six defensive backs to earn this unprecedented ticket into an NFL camp. Considering all of his Irvin-esque qualities, Holley was a shoo-in, right?
"I can't tell you that I haven't thought about it," Irvin said with a laugh. "But we won three Super Bowls with the real Michael Irvin, so it's not a bad thing that he fits the Michael Irvin profile."
While Holley now calls himself "The Michael Irvin Project," he's also quick to note that he and Irvin didn't click right away.
"It wasn't love at first sight," Holley said. "It was more like a romantic rendezvous. He started to see more of him in me because of how hard I worked, how consistent I was, how I took to coaching."
The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Holley is faster than Irvin was but more lanky. He's also less experienced, having played basketball and football while at North Carolina.
Holley was a backup point guard on the Tar Heels' 2005 national championship basketball team, then gave up the sport a few months later because he realized guys his size were more likely to make it in football. He put his decision in ink, getting a tattoo of steepled hands wearing receiver's gloves, surrounded by the words "Heavenly Received."
But Holley's only previous shot at the NFL was with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007, when he went through training camp and about six weeks on the practice squad. He said he earned a job in the Canadian Football League in 2008 but left without playing because of a contract dispute.
Holley didn't even have another tryout with an NFL team, prompting a tough-love chat with his godfather.
"He told me he didn't want me to be that guy who is 29, 30 years old and still chasing his football dream," Holley said. "He said, `You're a smart kid. Give yourself a timetable of when you are going to stop this.' So I told myself 2009 would be my last time trying to make this football thing happen.
"Then '4th and Long' came along."
A publicist at North Carolina steered producers of the Spike show to Holley. His first interview was supposed to last 10 minutes; it went 45. He wound up in Dallas, living in the Cotton Bowl along the other 11 contestants.
All the wannabes had something that kept them from previously making it in the NFL. Joe Avezzano, a former Cowboys special-teams coach who guided the show's receivers, pegged Holley's weakness as toughness, figuring his smile, dreadlocks and basketball background were signs of a finesse player.
Holley changed that the day he flattened a taunting cornerback.
"I thought, 'Wow!'" Irvin said. "Now that I know that's in him, the physical thing is taken care of."
Since filming wrapped two months ago, Holley has been working out and soaking up Irvin's plentiful advice. After all, Irvin knows the chances for a second season could be riding on how Holley does.
"Ultimately, it's called '4th and Long' because it is a long shot," Irvin said. "But this could be the start of a great career."
First, Holley must prove himself to his new teammates and coaches, even those who were among the million or so viewers every week.
"I'm already expecting when I get there guys are going to think I'm a joke, that I'm some slap-meat that they found on the street," Holley said. "That's absolutely fine. I understand that I have to come in and prove myself every single day. I think once they see me on the field, see the ability I have, you will hear those talks slowly quiet down. They'll quickly find out that I'm not just a TV guy. I can really play this game."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press