He had made his mark, and now he wanted to build a house for
himself. For months Troy Aikman scoured the countryside outside
Dallas looking for the right piece of land, and when he found it
he knew. This was the spot: a 30-acre tract offered by Ross
Perot Jr., a natty square of God's country next to where Terry
Bradshaw lived. How serendipitous this seemed. Bradshaw had
accumulated four Super Bowl rings, Aikman two. But this wasn't
what sold Aikman on the place. Here the trees grew thick and
tall, and the earth rolled, and on clear nights you could see
the magisterial city skyline 30 miles away.
Aikman hired an architect. One day they met to make plans in a
room at the modish Valley Ranch complex where the Dallas Cowboys
train. Modish wasn't what Aikman wanted, though. "I wanted
part-California ranch and part-country," he says. "But nothing
too ranch or too country." It was perfect, what they finally
came up with. It covered 12,500 square feet of living area--big
enough for a man who throws one of the best passes in the game.
But in the end Aikman couldn't go through with it. In the end
his reservations were too strong, and he backed away from the
The biggest problem was cost. Bids had run close to $4 million.
He had the money, but what if his career suddenly ended or he
decided to leave Dallas and make a home elsewhere? Who would buy
the house? Who has money to spend on a house whose only
statement is this: Troy Aikman Troy Aikman Troy Aikman...?
Then there was the second problem--more a consideration,
actually, than a problem. Aikman wasn't married. He was 28 years
old and single, and suppose he took on a wife and she didn't
like the house? Suppose she favored Victorian, say, or Greek
Revival or god knows what else? He refused to stick the woman he
loved in a home that did not speak to her heart.
January 15, 1996
"I have an idea of marriage as being a sharing type of deal,"
Aikman says. "If I build a house, I want her involved. I want
her to have some say in the decision."
He showed the plans to his best friend on the team, guard-center
Dale Hellestrae. And Hellie was struck hard by what he saw. It
was Aikman's dream house, but it was also anybody's dream house.
"Troy," Hellie said, "if she doesn't want to live in this thing,
then, buddy ... then maybe she's just not the right girl."
That Aikman would choose to conserve a few bucks is
understandable, even commendable, but that he has been able to
dodge marriage for this long is one of those mysteries that defy
human comprehension. Aikman, who turned 29 in November, might be
the most eligible bachelor to play in the NFL since Joe Willie
Namath hung up his white cleats, and while this is an image for
which many single men would sell their mortal souls, it isn't
one Aikman much appreciates. He would rather have a wife and
"I really thought I'd be married by now," he says, "but that was
because I dated the same girl for seven years. After we broke up
I dated somebody else for a year and a half, and that ran into
my rookie season. I was 22 my rookie year. If you had asked me
then how old I'd be when I got married, I'd have said, 'Oh, 26,
27.' Well, here I am not even seriously involved with anybody."
It's his own fault, of course. "Troy," says Hellestrae, "has
more opportunities with women than any man on this earth. But
he's got his particular tastes, and he's not going to settle for
anything below his sight level. He won't compromise. I've never
tried to set him up, because I don't think I could find anyone
who'd meet his qualifications."
Aikman has every right to hold out for just the right gal. To
start, he's rich beyond practical measure. Two years ago he
signed an eight-year, $50 million contract that made him the
highest-paid player in pro football history. He's also tall,
blond and blue-eyed: the kind of dreamboat who used to star in
horse and tank pictures. He is, moreover, the leader of the most
valuable franchise in all of sports, placing it year after year
in a position to compete for the Super Bowl.
Although the Cowboys were hardly themselves in December, losing
to both Washington and Philadelphia, they rallied to win their
last two games and finished the season at 12-4, the best record
in the NFC. Aikman limped into the playoffs with a bum left knee
and an aching lower back. And according to one published report,
he has grown so disenchanted with coach Barry Switzer that he
plans to meet with Cowboy owner Jerry Jones at the end of the
season to discuss Switzer's future. "That isn't true," Aikman
says when asked about the report. "Basically, I got set up by a
writer. I told him, 'I don't know if I have any clout with the
organization, and if I did I certainly wouldn't use it to get
somebody fired or get somebody hired.' [The reporter] wrote it
in a manner that seemed to say I'd insisted on changes being
made." As to his alleged rift with Switzer, Aikman says, "It's
just not an issue at all."
Aikman admits, however, to having groused that he has had less
fun this season than in previous ones. But that, he argues, does
not mean he's miserable and considering retirement. "Hey," he
says, "for 60 minutes every Sunday I get to go out and do what
I love--and I still do love it. There are a lot of things beyond
my control that I don't find enjoyable, but playing the game
isn't one of them."
Brett Favre's dream season in Green Bay gave him the highest
rating among NFC quarterbacks, but Aikman wasn't far behind. And
no player in the league means more to his team than Aikman does.
Dallas isn't Dallas when he isn't on the field, and nobody is
more aware of this than the Cowboy players themselves.
During a recent film session at Valley Ranch, receiver Michael
Irvin watched in stunned silence as Aikman fired off one perfect
pass after another, his delivery as quick and sharp as
anybody's. Unable to contain himself any longer, Irvin beat his
hands together and shouted in something of a singsong voice, "I
love you, 'Roy." It was spontaneous and beautiful, and everyone
in the room laughed, but Irvin meant it. "I attribute my success
to him," Irvin says. "The greatest things, the greatest
times--Troy is 100 percent responsible, and even then I'm
And yet, despite his sense of kinship with Aikman, Irvin rarely
ribs him about women or about the quarterback's status as the
game's latest, greatest heartthrob. Here is a situation that
requires sensitivity. One day Cosmopolitan magazine calls to
quiz Aikman about his love life, the next a national newspaper
does the same. Aikman entertains the queries with a mixture of
curiosity and exasperation, wondering how his image ever came to
"Not long ago," he says, "every time I did a picture shoot for a
magazine, the photographer would ask me to show up wearing jeans
and cowboy boots. They seemed to think I was a hillbilly. Now
it's different. Now they're not quite sure what to make of me.
And I show up wearing whatever I want."
Back in the old days when Namath played for the New York Jets,
he would cruise Manhattan nightspots looking for women to pick
up. He once boasted to a sportswriter that he didn't like to
date so much as "to run into somethin'." That was almost 30
years ago, when a $400,000 contract, a penthouse and a pair of
sideburns made you the hippest cat around. Aikman lacks Namath's
nose for the hunt, and if anything, money has made him that much
more careful about his evenings out. He says that when he goes
out it's with the same three or four women--"friends, nothing
serious." And though published reports have linked him
romantically to any number of starlets, he says he hasn't even
met most of them. Tabloids, he has learned the hard way, are
quick to turn handshakes into long, wet kisses. And the truth
is, the only after-hours carousing he has done lately has been
in cyberspace. Aikman might not hang out in nightclubs, rating
the talent, but he is a frequent visitor to America Online.
"I like to go into the Texas Room and chat with people," he
says. "It puts us on the same level. It's nice, too, having a
normal conversation with somebody without them knowing who I am."
"In the last few years Troy's become so big, he's almost like a
prisoner," says former Cowboy quarterback Babe Laufenberg, a
close friend of Aikman's. "People get weird when they see him.
And every time you go out with him something totally unexpected
happens. Every time. As a result, he can't do much anymore.
'Where do you want to go?' you ask him. 'I don't know,' he says.
'Pick a place.' 'O.K., [here].' 'That place is going to be so
crowded, it's not going to be any fun. Too many people. I'll
just get hassled.' 'Fine. What about [here]?' 'Oh, no. There's
nothing going on there.' So you end up going back to his house
and watching TV. That's your big night out with Troy."
"They used to just say his name," says Rich Dalrymple, director
of public relations for the Cowboys. "They'd shout, 'Hey, Troy;
hey, Troy!' And some might have their I LOVE YOU TROY signs. But
now they're doing things I'd never seen before. We were in San
Diego on October 15, and as we were walking into the stadium
there were some girls who started jumping up and down and
screaming and crying. It was like they'd seen a rock star. Elvis."
Before everything changed for him, Aikman used to drop by Little
League ball fields and watch the kids play. It didn't matter
that he knew none of them. He liked being out in the air and
witnessing the drama. But he stopped once the mobs started
finding him. For the same reason, he can't waste an afternoon
shopping at the mall. Now when he wants to pick up some new
clothes, he arranges for a local department store to open up
after business hours. That way he can browse the aisles without
fear of attack by hysterical autograph hounds and by women who
want to introduce him to their daughters. Likewise, Aikman does
his grocery shopping by E-mail, not wishing to risk life and
limb by visiting the local supermarket.
When he does venture out on the town, it's usually with an
off-duty cop dressed in plain clothes. This became a necessity
four years ago, during Aikman's first Super Bowl run, when more
than a few stalkers made him the object of their fixation. If a
star's popularity is measured by the number of stalkers he
attracts, then Aikman has few peers, at least in the NFL. One
man has sent him engagement rings. And there are women. "One has
been put in jail for coming to social events I've attended and
trying to get to me," Aikman says. "There haven't been any death
threats, but these people are obviously unbalanced. Some have
said they were going to get me because I stood them up. One
woman said I'd turned her into a prostitute. She vowed to get
even. What that means, I'm not sure."
What it doesn't mean is that he is going to take any sudden
detours. Aikman is as visible a player as there is in the game
right now. Last season he wrote an autobiographical children's
book, Things Change, which sold an astounding 200,000 copies.
Aikman's besuited figure has graced the cover of GQ. He has
appeared on Letterman and Leno and Regis and Kathie Lee. He was
a presenter at the Country Music Awards in 1993 and ESPN's Espy
Awards in 1994. He played himself on the TV sitcom Coach. He did
"Yeah," he says, "Oprah. I was told it was going to be myself
and a couple of other athletes and some soap opera girls. We
were going to talk about the parallels in our careers. Not until
I got on the set did they inform us that we were playing the
Dating Game. It was one of those matchmaking things. I wasn't
"You know what Troy's looking for?" says Dalrymple. "My wife
says this: a woman who looks like Cindy Crawford and acts like
Aikman had a much-publicized dalliance with country singer
Lorrie Morgan. He and actress Sandra Bullock "communicated a few
times but never dated," he says. He's a friend of TV star Janine
Turner but "nothing more than that." And anything you might hear
about Aikman and ice skater Nancy Kerrigan probably is a
fabrication. "We've never even spoken," Aikman says, though he
did send Kerrigan a telegram in 1994 after she was assaulted at
the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Aikman had received
letters and telegrams from celebrities after he and the Cowboys
won their first Super Bowl in 1993, and it struck him as a
classy thing to do. He thought he would reach out to others in
the same way.
"I just called Verna [Riddles], who works for me, and said,
'Hey, would you send Nancy Kerrigan a telegram wishing her luck
in the Olympics?'" Aikman says. "That was the extent of it. But
then Nancy announced at a press conference that she received a
telegram from me, and the next thing you know they're talking
about it in the tabloids, saying I'm sending her roses, and her
fiance is upset. I thought, Whoa, you've got to be kidding me."
Later, when he sent a telegram to the Baltimore Orioles' Cal
Ripken Jr. to congratulate him for breaking Lou Gehrig's record,
the tabloids didn't print a word about it. But then, on top of
being a guy, Ripken is married, with children.
"I don't like being linked to all these people," Aikman says.
"But I guess I've gotten to where I don't let it bother me. One
day I'm going to meet somebody I want to marry, and I'll have to
explain all this stuff. I don't want her to say, 'Heck, I'm not
going out with him, he's already dated all these people,' when
the truth is I haven't even met them."
Aikman's background doesn't suggest that he was fated for such
peculiar problems. Although he spent his early childhood in
Southern California, where anything is possible and perhaps
expected, his formative years belong to Henryetta, Okla., a town
of about 6,500 people off I-40 in the eastern part of the state.
Troy was 12 when his family moved to a 172-acre parcel of land
near Henryetta to fulfill his father's dream of operating a
ranch. Before then Kenneth Aikman had worked as a construction
foreman, putting in water and gas lines--"pipelinin'," the
occupation is called. In California, Troy had dreamed of playing
pro baseball. He had practiced signing his autograph, imagining
lines of fans desperate to get it. But all that stopped when he
got to Henryetta.
"We ended up seven miles out of town on dirt roads that were too
rough to ride your bike on," he says. "It was tough. Even at
that age I could see my athletic career falling apart."
Before school in the mornings Troy fed slop to the pigs. In the
summer he hauled hay in the fields, often late into the night.
His best class was typing, and there he had no peer. One year he
won a typing contest at a place called Okmulgee State Tech,
producing 75 words a minute. He was a good player on a mediocre
football team--the Henryetta Fighting Hens, they were then
called. (Now they're the Knights.) Fans of opposing teams tossed
rubber chickens onto the field when the Hens ran out to battle.
Nonetheless, Troy was eager for fame to find him. By the time he
was a junior, folks in Oklahoma recognized his name as belonging
to the tall string bean of a kid with the amazing right arm. In
1984 Oklahoma University invited Troy to a summer football camp,
and though the wishbone had long been the Sooners' offense of
choice, a passing talent like Aikman's was too special for
the coach--Switzer--to ignore.
"I remember an assistant comes to me and says he has this
quarterback he wants me to meet," says Switzer. "I asked him,
'Is he black?' He answered, 'No, Barry, he's white. But he can
run the option. He's got 4.6 speed, and he's got an arm.' I
remember the first time I ever saw Troy. I walked out on the
practice field, and he was standing facing south, his back to
the scoreboard. I started walking toward him, and somebody threw
him a football, and I stopped and watched him. He threw the ball
back, and I said to myself, This kid is different. I watched him
throw it five or six times, and then I said it again, Yeah, he's
different. I offered him a scholarship on the spot, which I
don't remember ever having done before with a quarterback. But
then I'd never seen a kid who could throw the ball like he
could. Troy was just advanced. His arm was as good when he was
16 or 17 as it is now."
Aikman signed with OU but lasted only two years there. As a
sophomore he broke his ankle, and his replacement, Jamelle
Holieway, went on to lead the Sooners to the national
championship. Aikman could see his future in Norman: on the
sidelines, watching, with a baseball cap on his head, a
clipboard in hand. He also had trouble finding a home with the
Sooners off the field. He lived in an athletic dormitory where
criminal mischief seemed ever present: drug use, gunfire, sexual
assaults. Switzer later would be forced to resign because of
such problems. Life in that dorm was so dangerous, in fact, that
Aikman wouldn't let his girlfriend visit him there. "A girl
would come by, and next thing you know she's being thrown in a
room, and there's 12 guys on top of her," he says. "I told my
girlfriend, 'Call me if you're going to come by. I'll meet you
in the parking lot.'" In the spring of his sophomore year he got
smart and decided to transfer.
"I went to Barry's office to talk to him about leaving, and he
was almost enthusiastic," Aikman says. "It wasn't like he was
trying to talk me out of it. He didn't say, 'O.K., now we need
to think this through.' He kind of got excited. I don't think he
wanted me to leave, but I think deep down Barry felt bad that I
was being wasted."
Aikman confessed to having no alternative school in mind, so
Switzer opened a desk drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper
listing the top college passing teams from the year before. He
fired off names, and Aikman accepted or rejected them as
possibilities. Switzer then picked up the phone and called some
coaches--Terry Donahue, then at UCLA, among them. "I had to sell
Terry on him," Switzer says. "He'd never heard of Troy. I said,
'Terry, this is a unique situation. Troy's a starter, a great
kid and a great player. He will be your quarterback, and he will
be drafted in the first round. He will play pro football.' Then
I told Terry that if he didn't take him, Troy would end up at
Stanford. I knew Terry didn't want that."
Aikman was ineligible to play for UCLA in 1986, but over the
following two seasons he led the Bruins to a 20-4 record, their
best in years. By then he was everybody's choice to be the first
player taken in the 1989 draft, a pick that belonged to Dallas.
As it happened, the Bruins accepted an invitation to play
Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, and they practiced at Texas
Stadium, home of the Cowboys. Among the regular visitors to
those workouts were Cowboy coach Tom Landry, president and
general manager Tex Schramm and personnel director Gil Brandt.
They stood on the sidelines and watched, unnerving Aikman.
"I did not practice well," he says. "And Coach Donahue was
worried about me. He'd pull me aside and say, 'Are you going to
be all right?' Then one morning before I was leaving for
practice Gil Brandt calls me in my hotel room. 'Troy,' he says,
'I just want to let you know that if you throw seven
interceptions in this game, it doesn't matter, you're our guy.'"
UCLA won the game by a couple of touchdowns, and Aikman was the
offensive MVP. But a week later, before the Hula Bowl for
college all-stars, a Cowboy scout summoned Aikman to his
Honolulu hotel room. Aikman took a seat, and the man said,
"O.K., where'd you go to college?"
"Then he starts going through all this background stuff, and I'm
thinking he should know this," Aikman says. "So finally, after
about 10 minutes, I say, 'Can I ask you something? Gil Brandt
told me I was going to be the Number 1 pick. I'm not holding
Dallas to that, but you come up to me, and you act like you
don't even know who I am. I'm just curious. What's going on?'
The guy looked at me and said, 'Sometimes Gil says things he
Aikman didn't know what to make of the meeting. The more he
thought about it, the more uncertain he became. Then, in late
February, oilman Jones bought the Cowboys from Bum Bright and
announced that Jimmy Johnson would replace Landry as head coach.
The news made Aikman even more anxious. He had never heard of
Jones, but he did know Johnson. While coaching at Oklahoma
State, Johnson had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Aikman. A few
years later, after Johnson had taken over at Miami, he had
talked to Aikman about transferring there. Having already
rejected Johnson twice, Aikman wondered if the coach would want
him a third time.
"I was like, Man, I don't know what's going to happen now," says
Aikman. "I couldn't believe it. I just sat there going, 'I do
not believe this.'"
Aikman's fears were for naught. The Cowboys ended up signing him
a few days before the draft, making what proved to be one of
their most significant acquisitions since they drafted Heisman
Trophy winner Roger Staubach 25 years earlier.
"I'd been in Dallas a year when Troy got here," Irvin says. "I
remember the first day he showed up. We were throwing and
catching, and he had this zip on the ball. And his ball was easy
to catch. It had all the speed in the world, and it would come
to you and hover. It would actually hover. The ball seemed to be
saying, 'O.K., Michael, you can catch me now.' I've never seen
anybody throw a better ball."
That first year, Aikman lived in an apartment complex just like
anybody else. And he got around like anybody else. He went to
Billy Bob's Texas and other honky-tonks for country music. He
ate at restaurants without being pestered. He could drink a beer
without a crowd watching to see how he held the bottle. Women
weren't lifting their shirts and exposing themselves to him yet,
and they weren't getting him to sign their still-warm panties.
But the Cowboys weren't winning, either. Aikman went 0-11 as a
starter his rookie year and was the lowest-rated quarterback in
the league. He missed five games with a broken finger, and when
he came back he suffered a concussion--the first of four in his
NFL career, after two in college. Adding to his torment was an
unsympathetic, often hostile press. POPGUN, one headline called
him. ACHE-MAN, said another.
"There's a reporter in Dallas who quoted me as saying Troy was a
loser, which I never did say," Johnson says. "I vowed never to
speak to that guy again, and I haven't and I won't."
Eighteen months into his pro career Aikman finally won a game,
one of seven the Cowboys would win in 1990. The next year they
won 11 before losing to Detroit in the playoffs. Then they went
13-3 in 1992 and beat the Buffalo Bills by 35 points in Super
Bowl XXVII. Aikman threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns and
was named Super Bowl MVP, earning the opportunity to tell a
camera crew, "I'm going to Disney World" as he bounded off the
field. Before the night was over Aikman would find himself cast
as the most celebrated athlete in all the world--"America's
quarterback," as Irvin still likes to call him.
Aikman went on the morning shows of the three major networks.
And then he made his first appearance on The Tonight Show,
looking sharp in a suit and tie. During much of his bit he kept
one leg thrown over the other, as if to announce that he felt
quite at home with Jay Leno, comfortable in the spotlight.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, something called "Aikmania" was in
full, glorious bloom.
The Dallas Morning News ran a story called "A Fan's Guide to
Troy," listing Aikman's likes and dislikes. Staff writer Nancy
Kruh wrote, "What Troy did to grow so big and strong: He drank
his favorite beverage--milk. He still loves it today with his
meals.... What you may not know about Troy: He wears contact
lenses. But don't worry--they're not tinted. Those baby blues are
natural.... Whom Troy isn't serious about: Janine Turner ... the
man himself says he and the actress are just friends. All single
women in America may join together in a collective sigh of
relief. His Troyness is still available."
"Nobody was talking about that stuff until we won the Super
Bowl," says Aikman. "If that's the trade-off, I hope it
continues, because that means we're doing something right on the
The next year the Cowboys and the Bills faced off again, in
Super Bowl XXVIII, and the result was the same, if not quite as
lopsided: Dallas by 17. Running back Emmitt Smith won MVP this
time, but Aikman was as effective as ever, completing 19 of 27
passes for 207 yards.
Says Jones, "We have all ridden Troy Aikman's coattails to the
success we've had. That isn't to diminish the contributions of
some other great players--Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Charles
Haley. But we all realize that none of this would have been
possible without Troy being the player and the person he is."
"What impresses me is that Troy wins these Super Bowls, he gets
all this attention, and he still manages to keep his feet on the
ground," says Laufenberg. "He's just the opposite of what you'd
think. Let me give you an example. One day he runs into Sharon
Stone at the Admirals Club in the airport. Most people would
then say, 'Hey, I'm good friends with Sharon Stone. Yeah, she
calls me a lot. We'd've gotten intimate, as a matter of fact,
but I had a flight to catch.' But Troy isn't like that. He
downplays it all the way. You know what she said to him? 'You're
a football player, right?' He said, 'Yeah. For the Cowboys.' She
said, 'Then don't you have a game this week?' 'No,' he answered.
Aikman met the rich and the famous, but he met other kinds of
people too. Not long after the 1994 Super Bowl he returned to
his house in the Las Colinas development outside Dallas and
found a couple of women eating pizza on his back patio. They'd
scaled a fence. It was around midnight, and Aikman was in no
mood for company. "We were just wanting to visit," one of the
women told him. "We're not like the rest of those girls."
Aikman looked at them for a long time, too astonished to speak.
"Yeah," he murmured finally, "I know you're not like the rest.
None of those girls come to my house."
He threatened to call the police if the women didn't leave. "No,
no, we'll go," they replied in unison. Without saying anything
more, he closed and locked his door. "But then I started
thinking, Well, where'd they go?" he says. "I turned on all the
lights and called Las Colinas security. They came out and
checked around but didn't see anybody. I thought that was the
end of it, but then about twice a week for the next month I was
receiving pictures of those two girls in the mail. They were
pictures they'd taken while at my house. They were swimming and
lying by the pool. Turns out they'd been there all afternoon and
all night, having the time of their lives."
It wasn't the first time women had thrown themselves at him, but
he was having a hard time accepting the lengths to which they
would go to try to impress him. Once a woman dropped a napkin at
his feet. When he picked it up and handed it to her, she stepped
up close, stuck her tongue out and licked his face.
"I've seen people be pretty rude to Troy," says Hellestrae.
"I'll tell you this: He handles it a whole lot better than I
"I sometimes get frustrated with how important Dallas Cowboys'
football is to people," Aikman says. "It's extremely important
to me, too, but football is what I do. I was talking to an
elderly woman one time, and I said, 'You know, sometimes it's
embarrassing, and I feel bad about the money I make.' She said,
'Yeah, but there are a lot of old people in nursing homes whose
whole life comes down to how well you play on Sunday. They get
such fulfillment and joy watching the Cowboys play, so you are
providing something good.' That made me feel better, but I still
He was big enough now to pal around with virtually anyone he
wanted, but Aikman stuck close to old friends, his teammates and
his family, confident that they were in his life for all the
right reasons. And with the shared experience of consecutive
Super Bowl wins, he and Jimmy Johnson sought each other out on a
more personal level. Their friendship got a real boost when
Aikman bought a tropical fish tank. Fish were one of Johnson's
great passions; they were what he obsessed about when he wasn't
obsessing about X's and O's. "When I told Jimmy about my tank he
got really fired up," Aikman says. "He came over and set up my
rocks, my reefs and everything--he did all of it. Then on Friday
afternoons when we were done with workouts, he'd say, 'What are
you doing later?' 'Nothing.' 'Why don't you run with me to the
"I enjoyed the fish," Johnson says, "but it wasn't only that. I
saw this as an opportunity to get to know Troy better." A couple
of times Johnson called Aikman and said, "Mind if Rhonda and I
stop by and check out your tank?" Rhonda is Rhonda Rookmaaker,
"Heck, no," Aikman said. "Come on over." Johnson usually arrived
with an ice chest full of beer and a thousand stories to tell.
"We'd sit there," Aikman says, "and drink some beer and talk
about the fish and whatever. Jimmy was so relaxed, you could
tell that this was what made him happy."
Later Aikman flew down to the Bahamas for a vacation and stayed
at a resort that Johnson had recommended. While there Aikman
phoned the Cowboys' strength coach, Mike Woicik, and said, "Tell
Jimmy I'm killing 'em in the casino down here. Tell him I'm
getting after 'em pretty good." The next morning, as Aikman was
leaving the hotel to go deep-sea fishing, the manager approached
him and said, "I just got a call from Jimmy. He's going to be in
"You're kidding me."
"No. He said he wanted to gamble with you tonight."
That evening, as Aikman was getting off the boat, somebody told
him, "Jimmy Johnson's waiting for you in the casino." And that
was where Aikman found him.
"Go get cleaned up, and come back down, and we'll play," Johnson
said. They spent about seven hours together, most of it
gambling. Johnson left in the morning for Orlando and the annual
NFL owners' meeting, where he would have a tense barroom
encounter with Jones. "That was the last time I saw Jimmy as
head coach of this football team," Aikman says. In the days that
followed, Johnson stepped down as coach, and Jones replaced him
"Troy carries more pressure now with Jimmy being gone,"
Laufenberg says. "Jimmy was such a dominating and domineering
figure. He was the guy who cracked the whip. There isn't that
person with the Cowboys anymore. Barry's style is real
laissez-faire. He sees it as the players' team, where Jimmy
said, 'Hey, this is my team.'"
"Yeah, but you know what?" says Irvin. "What Troy is doing now
is what he's done all the time. It's just being noticed more
because Jimmy's not here. Jimmy was always talking to the media.
And Barry's not like that. Barry sort of fades into the
background. People say, 'Well, who's leading the team?' It's the
same people who've always led the team. It's Troy. Troy leads
Switzer seems content with that. These players are adults, after
all, professionals. And with Aikman, Switzer says, there's no
real coaching left to do: "The only area where Troy could
improve is maybe to relax a little. I think he puts a lot of
pressure on himself. But then so much is expected of Troy. So
much is expected that it's difficult for me to give him a game
ball. I mean, I can give one to almost anybody else. But Troy
and Emmitt and Michael--they're at such high performance levels.
You go out and complete 67 percent of your passes--hell, that's
what you expect of Troy. That's a day at the office for him."
And it's days like that that have made Aikman what he is:
America's quarterback, vying for yet another Super Bowl and
dealing with the surprises that fame brings. "People ask me,
'How many would you like to win?'" he says. "I tell them, 'I'd
like to win five. It's never been done by a quarterback.' But
right now my attention is on winning this week, and after I win
this week it'll be on winning next week.
"I've heard athletes who've retired come out and say, 'Well,
there was nothing left to prove. I've done it all, and that's
why I'm getting out.' I don't buy that. I've won two Super
Bowls, and now there's a third to win. And if I win that one
there will be a fourth and then a fifth. There's always another
one to win, in whatever it is you do."