Aikman: Not the Player He Used To Be

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Troy Aikman was talking about his dreadful five-interception game, his aching back and how he'd handle being benched. As the conversation wound down, he couldn't help but laugh.

``I'm being asked to talk a lot about my eroding skills and when I'm not going to be around any longer,'' he said.

Aikman isn't thinking about leaving the Dallas Cowboys just yet, but the quarterback realizes his best days are behind him. But he still believes there are some good ones left.

``I don't feel like I have some of the skills I had a few years ago,'' said Aikman, who turns 34 next month. ``But as far as what I do have left and what I feel like I can do and whether I can play at a high level, I still have the confidence I can do that.''

Aikman was put on the defensive after throwing four first-half interceptions and another in the second half of a 19-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. Two more sure pickoffs were dropped.

The five interceptions were the most in his 12-year NFL career; it matched his total for the 11 games he played in 1998. It also tied the most in Dallas' 41-year history.

The most revealing aspect of his rough day was how it happened. All five throws could be blamed on a lack of arm strength, poor reads or both, all signs that his four-year slide is picking up speed.

``I don't feel like some things are quite as effortless as what they once were,'' he said. ``For someone who has been accustomed to playing at a very high level, that's really frustrating.''

The Cowboys are 1-3 this season in games Aikman has started. He's thrown only two touchdowns and nine interceptions, more than he had in either of his last two Super Bowl seasons.

Since 1996, the last time Dallas won a playoff game, Aikman is 21-24 in the regular season and 0-2 in the postseason. He hasn't been to the Pro Bowl any of those years after going to six straight.

Nonetheless, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insists that as long as No. 8 is healthy, he's No. 1. Coach Dave Campo said there was never any thought of turning to backup Randall Cunningham on Sunday, even though Cunningham has played well — arguably better than Aikman — in his three outings.

Campo compared Aikman to Roger Clemens, noting that the New York Yankees pitcher was hit hard late in the season, then threw a one-hitter against Seattle in the playoffs.

``I believe Troy Aikman gives us a chance to win football games,'' Campo said. ``It's not going back to 1995 or '93, it's going back two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers. He had the opportunity and did it.''

Aikman said his pride could handle being pulled.

``I want them to do what's best for the team,'' he said. ``I wouldn't like it, but I'd support whatever decision they make.

``If I'm the starter, then I expect it's because they feel that's best for the football team. If they don't feel that way, then I would not expect them to play me based on anything that I've accomplished over the years or what I've done for this organization. I think what's important is what's going on now.''

Aikman has been fighting a balky back. The source of his pain is remaining pieces of a herniated disc operated on in 1993. A recent MRI showed nothing that would require another operation.

``I'd love to say that damn disc cost me five interceptions,'' he said. ``But that's not the case.''