Aikman will start if healthy

Tuesday, September 12th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

IRVING – Cowboys coach Dave Campo could feel it coming during Monday's news conference. There were questions about Troy Aikman. There were questions about Randall Cunningham. Then came another query about Cunningham's strong performance against Arizona. And then another about Aikman's status in recovering from a concussion.

So Campo was ready when a reporter finally mentioned the words quarterback controversy, quickly dismissing the concept.

"I don't really look at quarterback controversies," Campo said. "I think that's just a term. The reason that we had Randall here is because we felt like we could win games with Randall, so we feel like we've got two winners. Troy Aikman won 90 games in the '90s – the best of any quarterback in one decade – so let's not forget that. I feel like Troy is our guy, and I think that he'll go in and do a great job."

Cunningham completed 24 of 32 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in a 32-31 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday night.

But Aikman, recovering from a mild concussion, will prepare this week as the starting quarterback for Monday's game against the Washington Redskins if his health permits.

Aikman said he does not have the headaches that bothered him last week, and will start if symptoms do not return after strenuous workouts this week. He will be monitored daily, with Campo hoping to know for sure by Thursday. Aikman suffered his third concussion in his last 10 starts in the first game against Philadelphia.

"The plan is to play this week and go through the week of practice and see how things go," Aikman said. "I had some [headaches] last week after working out. I think that's a little bit of a concern, but we'll kind of monitor that during the week. I've had them periodically, but they have been very minor."

"We'll get them both ready to play,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "If Troy is able to play, he'll play. We just want to see how he feels or if he has any limitations after practicing.''

Cunningham, 37, has been in Aikman's situation. He said he understands Aikman deserves the starting job because of what he has accomplished.

"My mindset is to be prepared at any point in time," Cunningham said. "I respect the Dallas Cowboys. I respect Troy. There's no room for division among this team. We've got too many great players here. We can achieve a lot of things, so we don't need to distract ourselves and cause any lack of unity in here. I know what my role is. I'm a role player, and when they say go, I go, and when they say sit, I sit."

Aikman also downplayed any talk of competition between him and Cunningham. "My job within this organization is to play, and my job is to get myself ready to play, and when I feel I can do that, I do that. I don't look at the surrounding circumstances with that, and then the coaches decide if I will play. That's the only way I look at it."

Campo said it was important to realize Cunningham had much better protection from the line than he and Aikman had in the first game. Aikman was sacked four times. Cunningham also struggled under Philadelphia's extreme pressure. Campo's thinking is that Aikman would have had a strong performance in the same situation.

"I was very pleased with how Randall played," Campo said. "That's why we signed him. I felt really good with how he handled himself out there."

Cunningham, who completed his first 13 passes, said Aikman was one of the first to console him after the Cowboys' last drive ended at Arizona's 43-yard line.

"He talked some encouragement before the game, which was excellent," Cunningham said. "After the game, we talked a little bit, which helped me out. I really don't like to lose. But he really encouraged me. I've been told I'm not a starter. The relationship we have is a good relationship. We can work together as quarterbacks."

Aikman, who wanted to play Sunday but was told by Jones that it was in his and the team's best interest if he sat, said it was difficult watching from the sideline.

He stressed the importance of Monday's game, but like his teammates, said the Cowboys are not panicking. The last time they lost their first two games was in 1993, when they went on to win the Super Bowl. The last time they lost their first three games was in 1989, when they finished 1-15.

"It's going to be a real challenge for this team to bounce back," Aikman said. "There's still a lot of football left to be played, but we clearly are a team that is desperate for a win. This team needs some good things to happen to it to develop that confidence, and get a little momentum behind us. We haven't been able to do that."


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