02/21/2007 12:00AM

Catch bad-boy Irvin at church


LAS VEGAS – Billboard advertising is ubiquitous throughout the country, and Las Vegas is no different.

In addition to regular businesses advertising goods and services, the casinos here flood the landscape with their oversized pitches, trying to lure gamblers away from the competition, as well entice people to come to their restaurants or shows. It's standard operating procedure for casinos to put billboards in the neighborhoods of their competitors (Hard Rock billboards outside the Palms, Coast Casinos ads near Station Casinos properties, and vice versa).

The more you drive around, the more these images tend to meld into the background, working only on a subliminal level. It's not often that I stop and stare at a billboard (which is a good thing when I'm driving 55 mph, or more) as there's no thrill in seeing the celebrities - Celine Dion, Elton John, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, David Copperfield, David Hasselhoff, etc. - who either have taken up permanent residence here or come to town for limited engagements.

But one thing caught my eye the other day. It was a 15-foot-tall picture of Michael Irvin. Yes, the wide receiver who played for the Dallas Cowboys (and was just elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and most recently served as an NFL analyst for ESPN.

My first thought was, "Is he now a singer or dancer? Or doing a comedy act?" After all, besides football, he's not known for performing. If anything, he's famous for his drug problems (pleading no contest to cocaine possession charges in March 1996 that led to a five-game suspension the following season), stories about frequenting strip clubs and other run-ins with the law, including a well-documented sexual assault case that was later dismissed as a fabrication by the accuser, another drug arrest in 2003 (later dropped), and yet another drug arrest in November 2005 in which he was pulled over for speeding and police found a crack pipe in his car, which Irvin claimed was a friend's and later said was his brother's (again, charges were dropped).

And as I slowed down to read the billboard, surprising to me was the place where he was appearing - Central Christian Church, a megachurch that is located in Henderson off the 95 highway between Sunset and Russell roads. Irvin will be speaking at the 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. services on Saturday and again on Sunday at 9, 10:20, and 11:45 a.m.

In addition, one of the Saturday services will be taped and shown Sunday on a high-definition big screen at Central's satellite church at Palo Verde High School in Summerlin, just off the 215 between Summerlin Parkway and Charleston Boulevard.

So, what brings such an unlikely speaker to a church?

"It's what is called a buzz event," said Kevin Oder, senior pastor at Canyon Ridge Christian Church, another sister church of Central's. "It brings people to church that otherwise might not attend. His is a message about redemption."

Even for the churches in Sin City, it's all about celebrity and making a splash.

More mixed martial arts fighting

A lot of billboards around town lately have been about the numerous Ultimate Fighting Championship cards, more commonly referred to by the abbreviation UFC. The mixed-martial arts sport has exploded in popularity in this country, but it's still smaller on a global scale than the Pride Fighting Championship league.

And Pride is trying to make headway in the States with a big card this Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center with "Pride 33: The Second Coming," its second visit to Las Vegas in the past year. The card features Pride's middleweight title fight between defending champ Vanderlei Silva of Brazil and Dan Henderson of the United States. Silva is a -330 favorite at the Harrah's/Caesars books, with six other bouts listed at the sports books.

UFC is also on the betting boards here with the "UFC 68: The Uprising" card in Columbus, Ohio, on March 3 - headlined by Tim Sylvia being a -300 favorite in the heavyweight title bout vs. Randy Couture - and "UFC 69: Shootout" in Houston, Texas, on April 7 - highlighted by Georges St. Pierre being a -650 favorite over Matt Serra for the welterweight championship.

* Fans of traditional boxing are really getting excited about the WBC junior middleweight title fight on Mayo5 (Kentucky Derby Night) between undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand. Mayweather is a -200 favorite. Sports books are already taking significant action on the fight, which is expected to shatter all purse and wagering records for a non-heavyweight title fight.

Nextel Cup circuit switches coasts

A week after the Daytona 500 ended, the Nextel Cup circuit continues this Sunday with the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.

Station Casinos has Kasey Kahne as the 5-1 favorite with Jimmie Johnson at 7-1, Matt Kenseth at 8-1, Greg Biffle at 10-1, Tony Stewart at 11-1, and Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch both at 12-1.

Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick is down the list at 16-1, and despite his season-opening victory, he's only the seventh choice to win the season-long points title at 12-1. Stewart and Johnson are the co-favorites at 5-1, with Gordon at 7-1, Kahne and Kenseth at 8-1, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 10-1.