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by Mike Fisher    Tue, Nov 29, 2005, 03:27 AM

During the early 90's, my son Nate thought of Michael Irvin as a best friend, a "fun uncle,'' and yes, a role model.

During that same time, I thought enough of Michael to allow him closes proximity to my family. And he did his best to live up to the expectations my son and I held for him.

A few years later, Irvin's public image unraveled. I nevertheless supported him, in numerous exclusive Irvin-related stories I wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for assorted magazines, and on my daily radio show. I gained a reputation for being an Irvin apologist, and I was proud of it, because I believed that Irvin would, during his time on earth, do so much more good than bad.

And I supported him in my household as well, answering hundreds and hundreds of my son's questions over the course of years and years. For my taste, I spent far too much time having to explain adult concepts such as "addictions'' and "demons'' to a prepubescent boy. But we were friends. They were friends. And I believed in Michael Irvin.

But this time, I think I've had enough. I think the elasticity on my support has been stretched too far.

My colleague Norm Hitzges does a terrific job on of asking the right Irvin-related questions as of Monday morning. As I write this now, late Monday evening, Michael has provided some answers. Some jumbled, awkward, apologetic, less-than-probable answers.

And still, for me, it's not enough. It's all quite inconceivable to me that a series of incidents would domino themselves through a not-in-any-way-culpable man's lazy Friday afternoon. (What is this, Jimmy Stewart in "The Man Who Knew Too Much''?) I found having to wrestle with this again -- and presuming that my kid would have to wrestle with it, too -- to be simply exhausting.

What serves as my last straw?

The last straw is not the specifics of Irvin's arrest the day after Thanksgiving for possession of a "drug pipe'' in his car. Even though I find that personally unsavory.

It's not the way Irvin was caught, having failed to pay for an earlier speeding ticket and therefore earning an outstanding warrant. Even though I can't understand why the concept of an "arrest warrant,'' even for something as innocuous as speeding, didn't scare him straight. ... straight to his checkbook.

It's not the fact that Irvin showed up for work in Bristol, Conn., the same weekend and failed to tell anyone about having been jailed, until after the news broke elsewhere. Even though, insanely, that means he passed on the chance to team with ESPN, the most powerful media outlet in the world, to craft his story. Leaving, for a time, an ESPN spokesman named "Josh Krulewitz'' to do his speaking for him. Josh Krulewitz?!

It's not that Irvin insists the pipe belongs to someone else. Even though that sounds like it comes from the Deny, Deny, and Deny School of Untruth. And even though once you toss a Versace sunglasses case with a dirty pot pipe and some marijuana bags under your car seat, it becomes YOUR pipe. YOUR baggies. YOUR pot.

It's not that Irvin says that the pipe's owner had come to him for religious guidance. Even though that's causing skeptics to suggest he's simply hiding behind the shield of his new-found faith.

It's not that Irvin claims to have allowed the person to leave a drug clinic in Houston to spend Thanksgiving with Irvin, his wife Sandy, and the kids. Even though that seems dubious. If you were Michael -- heck, if you were YOU -- would druggies be invited to hang out with your little ones?

It's not that Irvin says he found the "drug pipe'' in his friend's possession after a "pat down,'' confiscated it, tossed it in his car for disposal later, and, I hear, took a nap. Even though, if Superman had Kryptonite in his glove compartment, would he dispose of it later, after taking a nap?

It's not that Irvin says he was simply out shopping for furniture with Sandy on Black Friday when he was stopped. Even though, I can't see how Michael passed on watching Texas-vs.-A&M and Nebraska-vs.-Colorado to battle through the worst shopping day of the year to get 30 percent off an ottoman.

It's not that Irvin first said the culprit was "a friend'' and then muddied it up by suggesting the culprit was "his brother.'' And then, in the police report, it's revealed that he first told them the stuff belonged to "my brother.'' Even though, I personally have no difficulty determining which is which in my life.

It's not that Irvin wobbled when asked if he'd submit to a drug test. Even though my understanding is crack wouldn't show up in a drug test, so why not answer "yessir!''

It's not that Irvin might lose his high-profile ESPN gig. Even though I'm figuring there are some who will privately celebrate his added "street cred'' and will forget that Rush Limbaugh was fired by ESPN within 48 hours of his stupid position on black QBs.

It's not that Irvin's chance to qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is severely hampered now. Even though, the voters might drink five martinis at lunch, this marijuana-pipe thing they cannot tolerate.

It's not that in the last 10 years, Irvin has dipped himself into endless societal buckets of lava. Even though the cocaine and the strippers and the second-degree felony charges and the misdemeanor marijuana possession charge and the blown job opportunity with Fox Sports Net and the born-again Christian status that Michael often tells me is, for him, a high-wire act, does create quite a bio.

No, none of those things are the last straw. This latest incident looks ugly. Michael's explanation is no prettier. It's-my-friend-no-my-brother-he's-from-Houston-it-wasn't-my pipe-I-wasn't-speeding-that-fast-I-need-to-go-to-church-we-were-shopping-I-patted-him-down-I-gotta-protect-the-kids-please-pass-the-giblets-it's-nap-time.

My last straw: On Sunday, when the television finally reported the news of Michael's arrest, my son Nate, now 15, watched it with me.

I braced for the kid's inquiring looks, the head-scratching, and the questions, the hundreds of questions that had always come. I prepared the comforting, the reassurances, and the answers, the hundreds of answers I'd always provided.

Nope. Nothing. Unphased by the news about his "idol,'' Nate went to bed. He had no questions. He had no comments. He was unmoved.

That was the last straw.

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