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August 23, 2009

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EXCERPT | Aug. 21, 1989

Battle for Troy

A rare rookie showdown for a starting QB job

The Cowboys made Troy Aikman the No. 1 pick of the 1989 draft and Steve Walsh the first pick of the supplemental draft. One game into the preseason, Austin Murphy reported from Dallas.

Is the Cowboys' quarterback competition genuine? Does Steve Walsh really have a chance to beat out fellow rookie Troy Aikman, the $11 million man? Aikman played the first half in Dallas's opener, a 20--3 victory over the Chargers, completing 8 of 11 throws, including a feathered nine-yarder to Kelvin Martin in the corner of the end zone. He kept his passes short, sweet and conservative.

Walsh completed just 2 of 8 throws but was hurt by penalties, poor field position and dropped passes. All week at practice first-year coach Jimmy Johnson had bent over backward to assure one and all that Aikman would not be handed the job. "They'll get an equal chance," he said. "Steve will start next week's game."

The curious scrutinized workouts with special intensity, like Kremlinologists studying the seating arrangements of the politburo at the opera. On the Cowboys' depth chart the No. 1 quarterback was listed as "Aikman/Walsh"—in alphabetical order, it was explained. But who practiced with the first unit? They alternated. Ahh, here was a hint: Third-string QB Babe Laufenberg was flashing signals from the sideline to Aikman. Next Walsh would flash them to Aikman. We were on to something! But then Walsh was signaling Laufenberg, then Aikman signaling Walsh. Confounded again. "It's going to be a coin flip," said Laufenberg. "I get the call if the coin lands on its edge."

Aikman, who got 11 starts to Walsh's five as Dallas went 1--15 in '89, would win three Super Bowls; Walsh would play for six teams in 11 years.

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PHOTOPhotograph by PETER READ MILLERUNDER PRESSURE Aikman, who with UCLA had been named the nation's top quarterback in 1988, was being measured against Walsh, who had just starred for Johnson at Miami. PHOTORICHARD MEEK (RIDERS) PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (MCQUEEN) PHOTOSTEVE POWELL (LEWIS) PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (WELLS) PHOTOJOHN IACONO (YOUPPI!) PHOTOJOHN IACONO (WASHINGTON) PHOTOTONY TRIOLO (RICHARD) PHOTOFRED VUICH (YANG) PHOTOHULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (SHRIVER) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (BUSH) PHOTO

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