Saying goodbye isn't easy for Aikman

Monday, April 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(IRVING, Texas) - For more than half of his 34 years, Troy Aikman was "the star quarterback of the" fill-in-the-blank.

From the Henryetta Fighting Hens, his high school in Oklahoma, to college stops with the Oklahoma Sooners and UCLA Bruins, to a standout pro career with the Dallas Cowboys, Aikman has always taken center stage.

That's what made letting go so tough.

Aikman needed nearly 1 1/2 hours to say goodbye at his retirement news conference Monday at Texas Stadium.

The emotion he showed wasn't surprising considering the circumstances, but it was a bit out of character for someone whose usual facial expression through 12 seasons was a scowl.

"You got to bear with me to get through this thing," Aikman said after one of the pauses to regain his composure. "It's certainly a lot more emotional than I ever thought it would be."

Aikman did his best to remain stoic.

He brought an inch-thick stack of index cards to help guide him through his speech and probably never even noticed that outside the picture window behind him hung the three Super Bowl banners he earned.

But then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones started bragging on him, saying that Aikman "restored or embellished our belief that we want that our athletes can be heroes."

And then Jones showed a four-minute video tribute to Aikman that was put together by NFL Films.

"I certainly didn't expect that," Aikman said as he began his remarks.

Aikman called it a career 33 days after being waived by the Dallas Cowboys.

While he believes he can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL, the right job wasn't out there.

So rather than risk suffering an 11th concussion or taking another hit on his aching back, he ended his playing career and is preparing to start another as a broadcaster.

"I know it's the right thing for me because of my health, concussions, the back problems I've had," Aikman said. "It took its toll."

Aikman is close to completing a deal with Fox to replace Matt Millen as the partner for play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton, an industry source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. An announcement could come as early as Tuesday, the source said.

Aikman's life is rapidly changing. He recently moved to California, and in late August his wife is due to have their first child. The couple is also raising an 11-year-old daughter from her previous marriage.

"I wanted to play. I just can't do that anymore," Aikman said. "I think when all things are considered, it was the right thing for me and my family."

Several hundred people attended the going-away ceremony, most of them friends and family. There were former teammates, former coaches, even members of the previous generations of Cowboys.

Aikman recalled losing the first 11 games of his career and thanked former teammates and coaches for propping up his confidence during that time.

He said that type of character was the hallmark of Dallas' Super Bowl champion teams from 1992, '93 and '95.

"There was no animosity, no selfishness, nobody wanting any more credit than the next guy," he said. "We just wanted to win."

"There have been a lot of teams in this league that have been more talented than those teams were, but they didn't come close to accomplishing what we did because the chemistry of that ballclub and unselfish manner in which we played. You can't beat that combination."

He thanked scores of people. He named 18 offensive linemen, about a dozen coaches - even Barry Switzer - and practically every member of the Cowboys' organization, including Jones and his family.

He had trouble talking about specific teammates, especially "The Triplets" - himself, receiver Michael Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith.

"I loved it when they called us that," Aikman said, teary-eyed. "I told Emmitt when I saw him earlier, There's nothing I would've loved more than to be on the field when you break Walter Payton's record."

Sitting in the second row, Smith draped an arm around Irvin, and both bit their lips as they held back their emotions.

"All three of us stepped up," said Smith, who is 1,561 yards behind Payton's career rushing mark. "We all pushed one another."

"He probably was the laid-back one, but he was the stubborn one, too. His stubbornness was really his way of showing that losing was not an option."

Aikman never lost his desire to win, but age and injuries sapped his ability.

He missed five games last year with injuries and was knocked out of three more in the first quarter. He suffered four concussions in his last 20 starts.

The Cowboys waived him March 7, one day before owing him a $7 million bonus and seven-year contract extension.