Aikman, Troy Kenneth

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AIKMAN, Troy Kenneth

(b. 21 November 1966 in West Covina, California), football player who led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.

Aikman was the youngest of three children of Kenneth Aikman, an oil-field worker and rancher, and Charlyn Aikman, a homemaker. Aikman spent his early years in California until his family moved to Henryetta, Oklahoma, when he was twelve years old. As a small child, Aikman had problems with his feet that were treated with casts and orthopedic shoes. As a teenager, he endured the culture shock of moving from suburban Southern California to a ranch in Henryetta (population 6,000), where his father raised cattle, pigs, and chickens. "I hated it," Aikman later told Sports Illustrated. "I just couldn't understand why we moved there. All my friends were in California, and I was already doing well in sports there." He overcame it by playing baseball and football (quarterback) at Henryetta High School. Although Aikman excelled in both sports, he passed up the opportunity to play professional baseball after graduating, and instead accepted a scholarship to play football for coach Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, as a strong-armed, six-foot-four quarterback, Aikman was not a good fit for Switzer's run-oriented wishbone offense. A broken ankle shortened his sophomore season, and freshman Jamelle Holieway stepped in as quarterback. After Holieway led Oklahoma to the 1985 national championship, Aikman realized he would have little opportunity to play for Switzer and decided to transfer to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Readjusting to Southern California was difficult for him. His teammates thought of him as a cowboy, because he chewed tobacco and liked country music. But Aikman became an All-American at UCLA, leading the Bruins to a pair of 10–2 campaigns and to victories in the Aloha and Cotton Bowls.

It was at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas that the NFL's Dallas Cowboys scouted Aikman. The Cowboys had the first pick in the upcoming college draft and coveted Aikman. In his last game with UCLA, Aikman was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Cotton Bowl, as he guided the Bruins to a 17–3 win over Arkansas. By the time the draft took place in April 1989, the Cowboys had a new owner and head coach, but Aikman was their selection nonetheless. Ironically, the new Cowboys coach was former Oklahoma State University (OSU) and University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, who had recruited Aikman at OSU and prompted Aikman to consider transferring to Miami before he ultimately chose UCLA.

Life in Dallas did not start smoothly for Aikman. During a special supplemental draft in the summer of 1989, the Cowboys also selected Johnson's heralded quarterback from Miami, Steve Walsh. As the two rookies battled for playing time, Dallas finished with a record of 1–15 that year. The lone win occurred when Aikman was sidelined with a broken finger and Walsh was in the lineup. "It was a painful, painful year," Aikman later recalled. "But I learned some very, very valuable lessons."

In 1990 Aikman and the Cowboys began to turn things around. The team picked running back Emmitt Smith in the first round of the college draft, and when Walsh was traded to the New Orleans Saints soon afterward, it provided the opportunity for Aikman, Smith, and wide receiver Michael Irvin to form an explosive offensive trio known as "The Triplets." Dallas improved to 7–9 in 1990 and 11–5 in 1991. Although Aikman missed five games at the end of 1991 with a knee injury, the Cowboys made the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Aikman enjoyed an exceptional season in 1992, passing for 3,445 yards and 23 touchdowns. Dallas finished 13–3 that year and advanced to Super Bowl XXVII with a 30–20 victory against the San Francisco 49ers in the conference championship. On 31 January 1993 Aikman passed for four touchdowns and was named Super Bowl MVP following a 52–17 rout of the Buffalo Bills. (Aikman gave the car he won to his sister.) The following season, the Cowboys went 12–4 and repeated their feat, beating the 49ers 38–21 for the conference crown, and the Bills 30–13 in Super Bowl XXVIII on 30 January 1994.

Surprisingly, Johnson's tenure as coach of the Cowboys ended shortly thereafter, and in a twist of fate, Switzer was hired as his replacement. Dallas compiled another 12–4 record in 1994, but this time lost the conference title game to San Francisco. However, the Cowboys rebounded in 1995. They again finished 12–4, then defeated the Green Bay Packers 38–27 to advance to Super Bowl XXX. Once there, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27–17 on 28 January 1996. "After having done this three times in four years, certainly this team has made a place in history," reflected Aikman on the trio of championships.

Unlike previous Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, Aikman was not famous for thrilling come-from-behind victories. In fact, when Aikman rallied Dallas from a twenty-one-point fourth quarter deficit to a 41–35 overtime win against the Washington Redskins on 12 September 1999 as his career was winding down, there was little precedent. Rather, Aikman developed a reputation for precision passing and efficiency that helped the Cowboys dominate opponents during their Super Bowl years. Only when the careers of his primary receivers ended—Jay Novacek after the 1995 season and Irvin during the 1999 campaign—did his efficiency and the team's dominance begin to wane.

On 8 April 2000 Aikman married Rhonda Worthey, a former public relations aide for the Cowboys, at his home in Plano, Texas. A year later, on 9 April 2001, Aikman retired from football at age thirty-four. The Cowboys had released him a month earlier, and though he did consider joining another team, he ultimately decided to stop playing altogether. He had suffered a series of concussions and numerous other injuries over the years, and with new wife Rhonda expecting their second child, he concluded it was not in their best interests to continue playing. "It was 12 of the best years of my life," said Aikman at his farewell press conference.

By posting ninety regular-season victories during the 1990s, Aikman achieved an unparalleled starting quarterback record for any decade in NFL history. He led Dallas to six division titles and was selected to the Pro Bowl six times. Known for his extensive community involvement and charitable endeavors, Aikman had a street named after him in Henryetta and was honored as 1997's "NFL Man of the Year." In 1998 he was treated for skin cancer. Upon his retirement, he became a television football analyst with the Fox network.

For more information about Aikman's career, see Beckett Great Sports Heroes: Troy Aikman (1996), and the "Troy Aikman Roundup" and "Ultimate Aikman" retirement specials at and, respectively. Aikman's personal story, written with Greg Brown, is in a best-selling children's book, Troy Aikman: Things Change (1995), as well as in Aikman's Troy Aikman: Mind, Body, and Soul (1998). Also see a biography by Bill Gutman, Troy Aikman: Super Quarterback (1999).

Jack Styczynski