Cowboy is still a hometown hero to Henryettas

Saturday, April 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HENRYETTA, Okla. (AP) _ Sure, he is well aware of the Super Bowl rings and Pro Bowl appearances, but when Brad Wion thinks about Troy Aikman, he can't help but remember the opossum incident.

The opossum incident? Well, quite a few years back, Wion, who played with Aikman on the Henryetta High School football team 17 years ago, tried to keep his high-profile buddy in line with a little prank.

Wion put a live possum in the cab of a truck Aikman and another friend were about to drive. Aikman and his friend soon found themselves on the road with one angry, claustrophobic marsupial.

``They nearly beat each other to death trying to get out of there,'' Wion, now the track coach at his alma mater, said Tuesday.

Aikman got out of football by announcing his retirement during an emotional farewell recently at the Dallas Cowboys' complex in Irving, Texas.

As he moves into the broadcasting booth, he leaves behind a professional playing legacy in Dallas that includes three Super Bowls, several Pro Bowls and an almost certain spot in the Hall of Fame.

In Henryetta, though, he will always be the most famous former Fighting Hen. Locals honor Aikman with shrines detailing prep, collegiate and professional football accomplishments.

They remember ``No. 10'' _ not the ''8'' he wore in Dallas _ as a tall, hard-working, all-around athlete who also made A's in school. He was everybody's All-State.

``He was special,'' Henryetta High School counselor Kent Lackey said. ``The ninth-grade boys couldn't catch his passes.''

Henryetta High Principal Rick Enis was receivers coach on those Fighting Hen teams. What he recalled were extra practices for his receivers so they would toughen up their hands against those blistering rockets launched by the 15-year-old Aikman.

Enis has remained close to Aikman through the years. The favorite son has not forgotten his hometown, either, donating money to build a weight-training complex and funding an annual scholarship.

In fact, Aikman has done much more for Henryetta than people will ever know, his friends say.

``He doesn't flaunt that stuff,'' Enis said.

He doesn't need to. Various shrines, such as the one adorning the walls at the Main Street McDonald's, do a pretty good job of maintaining the Aikman legend.

Gladys and Jim Ferris came to McDonald's for a bite Tuesday and also chewed the fat over Aikman's retirement. Surprisingly, they are happy about it.

``I hope he sticks with it,'' Jim Ferris said.

The reason, both said, was the numerous concussions Aikman has suffered during the latter half of his Cowboys career. Folks in Henryetta, whether they know him or not, consider Aikman a real friend and wish him the best in health, wealth and wisdom.

``If you polled everybody in Henryetta, it'd be 90 percent to 10 percent for him to quit,'' Enis predicted, ``before he gets hurt.''

Football players working out at the Troy Aikman Sports Center will miss watching their hero and role model. Yet they, too, understand.

``He got to leave as a Cowboy and with his brain intact so he can still remember what his kids' names are,'' said junior Matt Newton.

Aikman doesn't need to keep playing to have people remember who he is, the players said. His reputation will loom large a long time in Henryetta.

``Look at what he gave us,'' junior John Mulliniks said, pointing at the walls of the weight room.

Kenny Speer played junior-high football with Aikman. He now coaches the Henryetta High School Knights _ the school lost the Hens name about 12 years ago.

Speer noted that Aikman's journey took him all over _ from a childhood in California to Henryetta to Norman (and the University of Oklahoma) to Los Angeles (and UCLA) and, finally, to Dallas. He spent only five years in Henryetta, Speer said, yet he cares for the place like a lifelong hometown.

``That's what makes him special,'' Speer said.

Even if he never plays another down of football again.