Copping a Plea

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

BEFORE HIS INDICTMENT FOR drug possession last April, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, 30, appeared before a grand jury wearing a mink coat, a lavender suit and a bowler hat. It was an outfit that had him "looking like Superfly," said one of his puzzled friends. Certainly it was unusual attire for someone facing felony charges, but then Irvin, who once boasted that "my greatest asset is my ego," was convinced he would beat the rap.

It didn't turn out that way. On July 15, in the midst of his trial in Dallas, the flashy All-Pro receiver pleaded no contest to a second-degree felony. Moreover, when he spoke to reporters the next day—dressed in a conservative gray suit—his fans heard something unusual in his voice: contrition. "I'd like to apologize to my family," declared Irvin, who said he was going to skip training camp—for now—until he had sorted out his troubles with his wife, Sandi (a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader), and their two small daughters: "I shall work on being a better father; I shall work on being a better husband."

Well he might. On March 4, police responding to a complaint about a party in an Irving, Texas, motel room found Irvin, shirtless, with a male friend and two topless dancers. They also found 10.3 grams of cocaine—which could have sent him to prison for 20 years.

Instead, after his plea, he was sentenced to four years' probation, a $10,000 fine and 800 hours of community service. But Irvin's punishment also included having to endure the humiliating testimony of topless dancer Rachelle Smith, 24, who told the court that in a series of parties in February, she snorted cocaine with Irvin, and that he had sex with another dancer.

The scandal could cost Irvin an estimated $1 million in endorsements. The NFL, which is also investigating the drug charges, is expected to decide this week whether to suspend him for at least four games. After the ordeal, flanked by his wife and daughters, Irvin finally delivered his own verdict. "There is no getting around it," he said. "I was wrong."

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