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18 Troy Aikman

WHEN Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman was a kid, he used to
sit alone in his room at night and practice his signature. Over and
over, he would draw the big T and the big A, with the rest of the
letters dissolving into a tangle of squiggles. And as he sat there
struggling over his inscription, he would think to himself, One day,
I'll be somebody and people will want my autograph.
Today, several years into Aikmania, he's right. People do want his
autograph. They want it because he's drop-dead handsome, like Joe
Namath. They want it because he's humble and clean-cut and a
role-model type, like Roger Staubach. And they want it because he
plays the game the way the greatest quarterbacks of all time have
played it.
Twenty-eight is an age when most NFL quarterbacks are just
entering their prime. At that age, Aikman has played six seasons in
the league and won more Super Bowls (two) than John Elway, Jim Kelly,
Dan Marino and Warren Moon have combined (none). Aikman's 7-1 record
in the playoffs is the best winning percentage of any quarterback
ever. And he's piloting a team that, with him at the helm, has the
talent and experience to contend for Super Bowl titles into the next
millennium. ''From the time he came into the league,'' says a
teammate, wide receiver Michael Irvin, ''I've always thought, This is
the man I want to play with for the rest of my career. He's that
special, that great.''
What sets Aikman apart is what set Joe Montana apart: He plays his
best when it matters the most. In his two Super Bowl appearances,
both against the Buffalo Bills, he completed a total of 72% of his
passes. That's 10 percentage points better than his already fine
regular-season career completion percentage.
In 1994, Aikman almost led Dallas to a third straight Super Bowl,
rescuing the team from a late-season slump. When the Cowboys lost two
of their last three regular-season games, Aikman took the brunt of
the blame. Two nights before their first playoff game, against the
Green Bay Packers, he swore he would show people the real Aikman.
''Troy Aikman ain't dead,'' he said. He was right: Against Green Bay,
only two of his 30 passes were uncatchable, and his receivers hung on
to 23 of them in a 35-9 rout of the Packers. ''You saw the real
Troy Aikman out there today,'' Dallas coach Barry Switzer said
afterward. It was the real Aikman, all right: self-assured and
determined, with that now familiar rifle arm.
Things have not come as easily to Aikman off the field. ''People
have this misconception that everything has been handed to me on a
silver spoon,'' he says. ''Nothing is given to anybody in life.
Nothing ever comes easy.'' His dad, Ken, worked in the oil-pipeline
construction business, and times were tough when Troy was growing up
in Cerritos, Calif. Because of deformities, his legs were in casts
for six months from the time he was eight months old. But he healed
remarkably well, eventually becoming a star quarterback at Henryetta
(Okla.) High. He entered college at Oklahoma, but when he and
Switzer, then the Sooner coach, agreed that Aikman's drop-back style
was better suited to another type of offense, he transferred to UCLA.
There he was named an All- America, leading the Bruins to a two-year
record of 20-4.
But the wide-open spaces of the plains were still dear to his
heart, so he couldn't have been happier when the Cowboys selected him
with the No. 1 pick in the 1989 draft. He now lives on a ranch just
outside Dallas, but don't get the wrong idea: ''Sometimes people
paint me to be a true-to-life cowboy,'' he says. ''I can't even ride
a horse.''
Indeed, for Aikman, image is not to be trifled with. ''I've never
tried to be anything I'm not,'' he says. ''I'm very content with who
I am and what I am.'' Which is not to say that he has done it all.
With half a career remaining, and with his fierce will to win, Aikman
could prove to be one of the biggest stars ever to play in the NFL.