Over on StrongSide, Mike Piellucci wrote a few words about last night’s game between the Cowboys and Buccaneers. He offers some good analysis that is worth your time. But he overlooked the game’s most crucial moment. ESPN needs to immediately commission a “30 for 30” on how a nationally televised handshake went terribly, tragically wrong.
In the fourth quarter, as the Cowboys were boat racing the Bucs, the camera found Michael Irvin celebrating with Jerry Jones in the owner’s suite. (Side note: Joe Buck observed, “There’s Irv.” Is that an official nickname for Irvin? Troy Aikman was never “Aik.” Emmitt Smith was never “Smi.” And I don’t recall anyone ever calling Michael Irvin “Irv.”) I want you to watch in real time what transpired between Irv’s left and Jo’s right hands. Then I’ll break it down for you frame by frame.
I posted that video last night without pointing to it from anywhere else, yet at this writing it has been viewed 645 times. Five hundred and fifteen of those views were mine. I can’t get enough of it. If I knew how to make a TikTok, I’d make a TikTok of this handshake and set it to a Taylor Swift song. Then I would watch it 500 more times.
OK, let’s see what happened here.
So far, so good. Jones is pretty stoked, but he doesn’t want to take his eyes off the action on the field. He reaches with his right hand and finds Irvin’s arm. No reason to panic, though, because Jones realizes that at the end of that arm he’ll most likely find a hand. All he has to do is slide his paw in the right direction.
Oh, dammit! Irvin, sensing Jones’ hungry hand, lifts his own hand to meet it, thereby surprising Jones and tying their fingers into a Gordian knot. If this were a kiss, it would be one of those kisses where both people move in too quickly and bump teeth. It’s way harder, though, to get your teeth tangled up. Look closely inside the yellow circle on the photo at the top of this post. I think you can see that Jones actually breaks his pinkie finger. Or dislocates it. It appears to make a 90-degree bend. We’ve got trouble.
At this point, both Irvin and Jones realize they must extricate themselves from this phalangeal horror show. We’ve all been there, right? Someone offers you a fist bump as you extend an open hand to shake. Then you transition to fist just as the other person goes for the shake. My strategy is always to accentuate the clumsiness for comedic effect, hoping that laughter lowers the embarrassment to a less than lethal dose. Not Irvin and Jones! Both men appear to cling to the hope that this whole mess can be forgotten, just like the piles of cocaine and Marty Griffin’s hidden cameras and that 1957 photo taken on the steps of North Little Rock High.
Everyone in the suite sees for the first time that they are on television. Jerry points with his glasses—“Look up here, not at my other hand!”—and his wife, Gene, captain of the Bravo Eugenia, raises her gaze to have a look, because even wealthy people who own NFL teams still find it delightfully surprising when they wind up on TV.
You know who is absolutely a boss and can shake the hell out of a hand on national television? Gene, that’s who. First, she makes eye contact. This lets both parties know what’s about to happen and how it’s going to go down. Then she executes a flawless hand hug, also sometimes called the soul brother handshake, slapping palms and grabbing Irvin’s thumb. She is a study in grace and elegance. Gene shaking hands so beautifully after her husband just embarrassed the entire family is like when Allen Iverson stepped over Ty Lue. It’s deeply disrespectful and also awesome.
The Cowboys might beat the 49ers next week. They might go on to win the Super Bowl. It won’t matter. This is the moment that we will all remember from this season. This is what future generations will refer to simply as: The Handshake.