It was a brilliant, sunny and warm day on Jan. 31, 1993, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., when Troy Aiken trotted onto the familiar field in front of 98,374 rabid fans, set to quarterback the high-flying Dallas Cowboys against Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
“I got butterflies before every game I ever played in, but for some strange reason I was as calm and relaxed in the locker room as I’ve ever been for my first Super Bowl,” Aikman recalled. “It was a very peaceful feeling – until I ran on to the field for the player introductions. Suddenly, I was caught up in all the excitement. … Then I could hardly breathe. Hyperventilating in the huddle, I had to catch my breath.
“On my first pass of the game, I spotted (wide receiver) Michael Irvin open on a corner route – and overthrew him by about 15 yards. Way over his head. I kept thinking, ‘I got to get a hold of myself here.'”
But no one was particularly surprised when the 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound quarterback pulled himself together long enough to lead Dallas in the 52-to-17 win over Buffalo, one of the most lopsided victories in Super Bowl history. Among other heroics, he threw touchdown passes of 18 and 19 yards to Irvin only 18 seconds apart, giving the Cowboys a 28-10 lead at intermission. By the time his uniform had absorbed all the dust and dirt that the Rose Bowl could provide, he had completed 22 of 33 passes for 273 yards and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The Cowboys’ first-round draft choice in 1989 spent his entire career in Dallas, reluctantly retiring in 2000 due to nagging back injuries and several concussions. By then, he had set 45 team passing records, including the Cowboys’ career record for passing yards (32,942), completions (2,898), completion percentage (61.3) and touchdowns (165). And he is one of only three NFL quarterbacks to guide his squad to three Super Bowl victories.
A sociology major at UCLA – where he was named an All-American player with a 20-4 record, 5,298 yards passing and 41 touchdowns in an effort that includes wins in the 1987 Aloha Bowl and the 1989 Cotton Bowl – Aikman had no idea of what he was going to do after he grew up. Of course, by that time he didn’t have to worry about mortgages and car payments anymore thanks to several multiyear, multimillion contracts with built-in performance clauses.
He more or less stumbled into sports broadcasting in 1994 on the low-budget local program “Pat Summerall Show with Troy Aikman” while still a Cowboys player, but didn’t take it seriously until the 1999 and 2000 seasons of the NFL Europe League when – as a lark – he joined Fox Sports Net as a game analyst teamed with sportscaster Brad Sham. The network liked what they heard and offered him a job when his playing days were over.
And now Aikman, 38, is working Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. – his first time at the Big Carnival – with Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and fellow analyst Cris Collinsworth.
“It has been a surprisingly smooth transition from playing football to reporting about it,” he mused. “I love it because it keeps me involved in the game. I enjoyed football and could talk about it 24 hours a day; it isn’t hard for me to do.”
Undaunted by the 1 billion or so viewers around the world expected to catch all or part of the televised game, Aikman does not anticipate experiencing butterflies as soon as he steps into the broadcast booth.
“I’m comfortable and think I know what I’m doing,” he laughed. “And as a former NFL quarterback who played in three Super Bowls, I think that I bring a unique perspective to the job. I understand the player’s emotions – I know what it’s like when your system is pumped with enough adrenaline to overthrow a guy by 20 yards.”
Lucky besides hardworking, Aikman picked the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles for the big show down in Jacksonville four weeks ago.
“My job is explaining to the viewers what’s happening on the field as well as what they’re not seeing there,” he said. “I want to point out why a play was successful or why it failed. There is a tendency in this business to use hindsight, but I try to balance it by looking ahead, too. Why is one team throwing the ball? Why is the other only running with it? What do the coaches seem to have in mind?”
Aikman gathers his broadcast information from hundreds of sources, from midnight calls to offensive coordinators and scouring newspaper sports columns to surfing the Internet and chatting with the athletes directly – many of whom as close friends.
“I really don’t prepare for the Super Bowl differently from any other game, but there is no question that the intensity of everything that goes into the game has been elevated,” said Aikman, laughing. “I prepare the best I can but always feel like I’m missing something.”
Aikman was born in the Los Angeles area while his father, a welder by trade, was working on a gas pipeline. Thirteen years later, the family moved to Henryetta, Okla., where he quickly established himself as an all-state football player and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. After breaking his leg, he was replaced by Jamal Holloway and decided to transfer to UCLA – where he became a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Between weekend football gigs, Aikman divides his time between homes in Dallas and Santa Barbara, Calif., with his wife of nearly five years, Rhonda, and their three daughters, Rachel, Jordan and Alex.
“Fun for me is anytime I can combine golf with good weather and the ocean,” he laughed. “It’s impossible to go wrong with that.’