Troy Aikman Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 5, 2006
Norv Turner (presenter):
I must say it's awfully nice, even though if it's just for a weekend, to be around the Cowboy fans and Troy.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the first time I met Troy Aikman. He was standing in a meeting room. He had his arm in a sling. He was recovering from shoulder surgery. He had been slammed to the turf at the Vet by Clyde Simmons. I think Reggie got in on that one also.
I joked to Troy, We've got to get you to get rid of that ball a little quicker. He didn't laugh. In fact, he gave me that look he can give you that says, hey, let's get to work.
A few weeks later, we had the chance to go out in the field for the first time. I remember after the workout calling my good friend and coach Ernie Zampese. I told him, I've never seen anything like it. Few have had the great release, the unbelievable arm strength, and incredible accuracy of Troy Aikman.
A couple years ago during an interview, I was asked, if I got to coach one game, who would I choose as my starting quarterback. As you saw today, there's a lot of great ones to choose from. But it was really a very easy question for me to answer. I told them I'd choose Troy. The interviewer politely asked me why. I said, because I want to win.
I further explained my answer. Troy was consistently the most accurate passer I've ever seen. What fans saw on Sundays, his teammates saw every day of the week.
Another one of Troy's real strengths was his ability to bring out the best in everyone around him. Troy was driven to be the best, and he expected the same from everyone around him.
I really felt was Troy's drive, along with coach Jimmy Johnson's leadership, that had accounted for that worst to first you just saw on the screen.
Troy's greater strength as a player was his ability to focus and stay focused in the most unusual circumstances. Troy had the ability to make the play when it mattered the most.
You know, after a game, a lot of times you have those "if's." You know what I'm talking about. "If we completed that ball on third and four, we would have won the game." You also have those "why's." "Why did they throw the ball in that situation? We could have given it to Emmitt?"
With Troy, you didn't have those "if's" and "why's." The best example to me was in the '92 championship game, with four minutes left in the game. There were no "if's." Alvin Harper ran a slant. Troy hit him right between the numbers. Alvin ran down the field inside the ten, and took Troy, himself, and the rest of the Cowboys right to the Super Bowl.
If you look at Troy's greatest plays, they came in the most critical situations. If you look at his greatest games, they came against the best teams and they came in the playoffs. Troy is one of the most unselfish players to have played. He knew the things he had to do to give his team the best chance to win.
In an era of super egos, he never let his get in the way of winning. Super Bowls were more important than statistics.
Today Troy is being honored as one of the greatest players ever. It was a thrill for me to coach him three years in Dallas. During that time we became great friends and won two Super Bowls. It was very difficult coaching against Troy and the Cowboys the next seven years. During that 10 year era, Troy was the winningest quarterback in the National Football League. It was great for me to watch Troy grow as a player, but more than that it was a thrill to watch him grow as a man.
I feel privileged to present Troy today. But I feel more privileged to have been his close friend throughout the years. Troy's teammates would tell you he was a leader of those great Dallas teams of the '90s. It's fitting that he's the first of that group to enter the Hall of Fame. I look forward to future years when he'll be joined by his great coach Jimmy Johnson, his teammates Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and hopefully others.
It's a great honor and thrill to present to the Hall of Fame, Dallas quarterback, No. 8, Troy Aikman.
Thank you very much. I'd like to first of all say that I'm very pleased to see all the people who have stuck around here today. I know it's been a long day. I know it's hot. I know a lot of you have come to watch other inductees and have reason to leave, but you stuck it out, and I appreciate that very much.
I'd also like to say that the people in Canton, Ohio, have been absolutely terrific. Over the last three days we've been here, the hospitality that they've shown myself and family has been nothing short of spectacular. I look forward to many return trips to the Canton area in the future years. I don't anticipate missing many Hall of Fame weekends. Thank you for the hospitality and thank you for the courtesy you've shown me and my family.
It's said you're judged by the company you keep. If that's true, I'm in great standing today. It's an honor to be a member of a Hall of Fame induction class that includes five men for whom I have such admiration and respect. Warren Moon, Reggie White, Harry Carson and Rayfield Wright played the game the way it should be played. John Madden coached the game the same way.
I would have loved to have had any one of them on my team.
I, too, am saddened by the absence of Reggie White, an amazing player and even better man who left us far too soon. Reggie, Warren, Harry, Rayfield, and John represented the game with class, just as Lesley Visser, the first female recipient of the Pete Rozelle Award, brought respect and professionalism to the field of journalism for her work in print and broadcasting. It makes me proud to be in their company today.
I'm also honored to have Norv Turner here today as my presenter. Norv was my coach for three years. That's it. I started playing football at the age of seven and retired when I was 34. Of all those years, Norv and I were together for only three. Yet there's no doubt in my mind that if Norv Turner had not entered my life, I wouldn't be joining these men in the Pro Football Hall of Fame today.
He meant that much to my career and to the Dallas Cowboys. Norv came to Dallas as an offensive coordinator in 1991, my third season, and turned around one of the worst offenses in the National Football League, and gave guidance to a young quarterback who was in desperate need of some direction.
We went to the playoffs that season, and over the next two years won back to back Super Bowls. At a time when coaches are guarded about getting too close to their players, Norv proved you could be both a great coach and a great friend. Yet it's our friendship that is most special because it has endured long after he stopped coaching me in Dallas. He's the big brother I never had. And I thank him for having the biggest single influence on my career. Thank you, Norv. I wouldn't be here without you.
When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a professional athlete. It wouldn't have happened without the help of a lot of great coaches. I was blessed to be coached by some of the game's best, beginning with my earliest years of junior All American football in Cerritos, California, with the Suburban Hornets.
Mario Orasco, Rod Davis, Manny DeSalvo taught me the fundamentals of the game and what it meant to be a good sport. As I moved on to junior high and high school ball in Henrietta, Oklahoma, with the Henrietta Hens that's right, our mascot was the Hens, Fighting Hens as if maybe that instilled a little bit of doubt in our opponents' minds.
Anyway, Bill Holt in Henrietta taught me about the sacrifices that must be made to excel. Following high school, I attended Oklahoma University and was coached by one of the winningest coaches in college football history, Barry Switzer.
It was also while as Oklahoma that I got coached by Mack Brown, current head coach of the defending national champions Texas Longhorns.
Although my time at Oklahoma was brief, it was there that I first learned how difficult playing the quarterback position could be. It was through those disappointments, however, that led to me transfer into UCLA. That decision would turn around my career.
I owe so much of my success to UCLA and to my head coach there at the time, Terry Donahue. Coach Donahue represented UCLA with class and integrity and was a great example for the young men that he coached. His impact on me was significant. He would often tell me and the team, ‘Things are never as good as you think they are or ever as bad as you think they are.’ Sound advice that I would have to remind myself of often during my early years in Dallas.
Coach Donahue, thank you for providing me an opportunity at UCLA and having such a positive influence on my life.
So many other coaches are responsible for my development as a player. Rick Enis, Danny Spurlock, Ken Lackey, Steve Axman, Rick Neuheisel, Jerry Rhome, Hudson Houck, Joe Avazzano. Joe has been a great friend to me and my family for many years. I thank him for his support throughout my career.
Ernie Zampese, my offensive coordinator in Dallas for four years, including when we won Super Bowl XXX. Was one of the best offensive minds and greatest people that this game has ever known. Ernie couldn't be with us today. I know he's watching. Ernie, I say thank you for everything.
Then of course there was Jimmy. Jimmy Johnson and I arrived in Dallas the same year, 1989, both fresh from college, both eager to prove ourselves. Didn't take long to see that Jimmy was unique, and it wasn't just because of his hair.
What struck me most about Jimmy was his fearlessness. Some coaches play not to lose. Jimmy always played to win. Some guard against overconfidence. Jimmy insisted on it. Jimmy's boldness set the tone for a young group of players who didn't know much about winning but were eager to learn. Jimmy was the right coach at the right time for the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to play for him.
I was also fortunate to have played for a franchise whose owner was as committed to winning as anybody on the field. Every move Jerry Jones made was done with the sole purpose of helping the Cowboys win championships. That's what he was about then, and still is to this day.
As a quarterback, the player who more than any other is ultimately judged on his ability to win, I couldn't have asked for anything more from an owner. It was a privilege to play for Jerry and the rest of the Jones family, and I appreciate the opportunity they gave me and their commitment to making the Cowboys a championship organization. Thank you very much.
In addition to great coaching and ownership, I had the pleasure with playing with a very gifted and special group of players. It's no wonder we enjoyed so much success in the '90s considering all the talent we had. I enjoyed the best seat in the house as I watched Emmitt Smith run his way to the NFL's all time rushing record. Michael Irvin, whose work ethic was second to none, was one of the most special teammates I've ever had the opportunity to play with.
I always took great pride in being a part of the triplets with Michael and Emmitt. There were so many other special players that I had a chance to play with, guys such as Jay Novacek, the irreplaceable and unsung hero of our franchise, Daryl "Moose" Johnston, the blue collar guy who I'm not ashamed to say was better at his job than any other player on the team was theirs, including myself.
Charles Haley, no one came more prepared to play or played harder on game day than Charles did. Jason Garrett, my confidant and greatest ally on the field and quarterback meetings for the majority of my career. Dell Hellestrae, not only was he the best long snapper in the league, but he also proved to be a great listener to my many frustrations on a many a Saturday night. Thank you, Strapper. Golf game hasn't gotten any better.
I was also protected for many years by one of the best offensive lines of all time. Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, John Gesek, Eric Williams, Larry Allen, and Kevin Gogan. As talented as all of these players were, however, they were even better teammates. When I look back at my football career and the championship seasons, I think of all my teammates from Henrietta to UCLA to Dallas that shared in all those moments. I thank all of you. I certainly would not be here without you.
As I look at the men on this stage behind me, I think about the many great moments that they helped produce. The championships their teams won and the fans they entertained. They all made significant contributions to their teams, and that's why they're here.
In Dallas, my role as the quarterback was to move our team down the field and score points. Sometimes that meant passing the ball, sometimes it meant handing it off. We had a good system in Dallas. Although it wasn't one that allowed me to put up big numbers, that was fine. I did what was asked to help the team win. So it is extremely gratifying that after a career of putting team accomplishments in front of personal achievement, today I am receiving the greatest individual honor a football player could ever receive.
I didn't seek it, and yet I'm here. I'm so grateful to the NFL, to the Cowboys, to my teammates, and to my coaches, for helping me get here.
There are two other people that deserve mention. The first is Leigh Steinberg. Leigh was my agent throughout my career. I was always proud to have him as well as Jeff Moorehead represent me during contract negotiations. There's not a better example of Leigh's support for his clients than the fact that Warren Moon selected him to be his presenter today.
The second person is my long time business advisor, Mark Grigg. I've known Mark since I was 22 years old. Since that time I've not met a finer, more trustworthy person. Mark, thank you for the commitment and support over the last 17 years.
I'm also very grateful to my family. My mother, Charlynn sacrificed so much for myself and my two sisters, shuttling us to practices, attending our games, fixing meals, keeping our uniforms clean, and basically always being there for us whenever we needed her, regardless of whatever else might have been occupying her time at the moment.
Mom, you're an amazing woman. You've always given more than you've gotten, yet I don't think you'd have it any other way. The older I get, the more I understand how much you sacrificed, and your children will forever be indebted to you.
My father, Ken, taught me early on that through hard work I could achieve anything I wanted in life. Dad, you were right. You taught me about discipline, toughness, and life's most important lesson: To never quit. My intensity on the field was a reflection of you and your impact on my athletic career was greater than you'll ever know.
I was also lucky to grow up with two terrific sisters, at least most of the time (smiling). Terri and Tami were pretty good athletes themselves. Since I didn't have a brother, they were the ones who satisfied my need to get better by playing catch, running routes, rebounding baskets, and doing pretty much everything else little brother needed. I thank both of you for all the support and love you've shown me through the years.
There's now a new team of Aikman women in my life. My wife, Rhonda, is my best friend. She inspires me daily in ways that no one ever has before. The past eight years have been without question the best years of my life. Rhonda, you're a wonderful mother, an example to our three daughters, Rachel, Jordan, and Alex. The four of you make me so proud and give my life purpose, I'm so thankful to have such a wonderful family.
I'd also like to thank the many friends, family and fans who have traveled great distances to share this moment with me today. Thank you. Your friendship and support means so much to me as it did throughout my career. Football is a great game that has afforded me many things and provided much happiness. But my greatest blessings in life have been my family and friends.
A high school coach once told me, In life you have a lot of acquaintances but very few friends. For most, that's probably true, but not for me. The many friendships in my life are what made me feel every single day like I'm the luckiest guy in the world, and I thank all of you for being here today.
In closing, I'd like to share something that a close friend used to tell me back when I was playing. He'd say this when times were tough, maybe we'd lost a close game, I'd thrown the deciding interception or the grind and the rigors of the season were beginning to take their toll on me. What Norv Turner would say was this:
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that these are the jobs we've always dreamed of having. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that these are the jobs we've always dreamed of having.
Norv was right. For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to play pro sports. A lot of kids want that, but very few actually get the chance. I was able to live a dream. I played professional football. That I was able to do so with so many great players and coaches and win three World Championships and wind up here today with all these great men in gold jackets, well, it's almost too much to believe. I am humbled to be welcomed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I thank you.