Three Kings

The legends you only thought you knew

C'mon, they deserve better than that.

Three of the greatest all-time Cowboys treat us to Super Bowl trophies, a gazillion goose bumps and eternal smiles. In appreciation, we bestow upon them a moniker conjured from an implausible genetic connection and the cunning craftiness of counting to one, two, three.

Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin--The Triplets?

What, Three Teammates was already trademarked? No creative room in the chasm between Three Wise Men and Three Stooges?

How about The Oreo Boys? Dipper, Zipper and Stripper? God's Tripod? Cowboy Cousins? Anything but, y-a-w-n, The Triplets.

Crappy nicknames notwithstanding, at least we have an ultra-cool way of immortalizing our Cowboy heroes. Although their talent and value were hardly identical, Aikman, Smith and Irvin got their names etched on the wall at Texas Stadium last Monday night, permanently and jointly cementing their legacy in Cowboys lore.

Their night was memorable yet morose. Owner and ceremony emcee Jerry Jones confused the overflow crowd by announcing, "First, in alphabetical order, let's hear from Michael Irvin." Irvin's two sons repeatedly dropped playful passes from Roger Staubach. And, oh yeah, the current Cowboys, trying to start 2-0 for the first time since the talented trio traded their helmets for network TV headsets, totally Heimliched a 13-0 lead in the final four minutes to lose to the hated Redskins.

Luckily, even though it played for a storied franchise that birthed The Manster, Too Tall and Captain America, our modern-era threesome was so good it didn't need a catchy jingle or successful send-off.

On the field, they were as productive as any offensive teammates in NFL history. Off it, they were a frisky combo of Cowboy and choirboy, complete with dip in lip (Aikman), chip on shoulder (Smith) and very interactive posse (You Know Who).

For those of us fortunate to cover them in their prime, it wasn't the fact that Aikman, Smith and Irvin oozed enough fame and fortune to make Vincent Chase beg to be their Turtle. It was that--behind the stars and beyond the stats--The Triplets were super, but also human:

Mr. Smith Went to Washington

With Emmitt J. Smith III, you were never really sure where you stood.

One day he'd whisper in your ear his lofty goal of 2,000 yards rushing. A week later he'd ignore you in a "nobody ever believes in me" motivational ploy.

But on March 2, 1993, Emmitt made a move I'll never forget.

Fresh off their dominating victory in Super Bowl XXVII, the Cowboys visited The White House. Not the one in Valley Ranch where hookers did their business. The one in Washington, D.C., where Monica Lewinsky did hers.

It was an elaborate reception in the East Room, complete with an inflatable goal post hanging in front of an ornate portrait of George Washington and, of course, President Bill Clinton. U.S. Representative Dick Armey escalated the hyperbole by comparing Emmitt to the Superconducting Super Collider. (A Ring of Dishonor nominee, if you recall.)

Upon hearing the president would be leaving in two minutes, Emmitt spotted me craning at the end of a long, hopeless line. With a wink and a "hurry your ass up" hand gesture, the NFL's leading rusher blocked long enough for me to run an end around and sneak onto Clinton's left shoulder for a picture--his last of the day.

Explained Emmitt afterward, "I'll be back here someday. You might not."

For once, I was precisely sure where I stood with Emmitt Smith.

Cross-eyed Champ

Troy Kenneth Aikman wasn't a complicated man. He liked chocolate labs in his dog house, Lucky Charms in his cereal bowl, country music divas on his arm and--on one extremely intoxicated night at a Honolulu dive--"My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" in his karaoke machine.

With his golden looks and nuclear arm, every man wanted to be like him and every woman wanted to be with him.

Boink him on the head, however, and Mr. Vanilla would go all Neapolitan on you. Like in Super Bowl XXVIII.

One of his 10 career concussions, Aikman was knocked cold from the '93 NFC Championship Game courtesy of a knee in his ear hole. On the bench, he giddily told trainers he was playing for the Henryetta Hens (his Oklahoma high school team). He was hospitalized overnight but traveled with the team to Atlanta the next day.

During the week he complained of minor headaches. During the January 30, 1994, victory over the Bills, he suffered seriously blurred vision. No wonder Aikman was uncharacteristically ordinary, and the Cowboys started the second half by handing the ball to Emmitt on seven consecutive plays.

"I played with my right contact in my left eye and my left in my right," Aikman admitted the next day. "But you can't tell anybody. It's embarrassing."

Fine. Let's save it for some day after you retire.

The Play-faker

Breathing in Dallas' low necklines and high profiles like casino oxygen, Michael Jerome Irvin routinely partied down until the sun came up.

On September 3, 1992, surely we were going to cross the line, if not snort it. Irvin had just signed a new contract worth $1.25 million per season, a deal he finalized with a $125 pen designated specifically for the occasion.

"We done!" Irvin scream-laughed to any media within a three-mile radius that afternoon. "Let's go baptize this baby!"

On the way to Cowboys Sports Café in Valley Ranch, we made the necessary arrangements to go swervin' with Irvin. Sucked dry an ATM. Called in a pre-emptive sick day. Updated the life insurance policy. The man with the 17-member family, the 24-karat charisma and the 300SL Mercedes Convertible with the "PLY MKR" plates was about to direct the next episode of Michael Mania.

"Everything's on me!" Irvin announced, dishing out bottles--not glasses, mind you--of Dom Perignon champagne. Owner Jerry Jones gave a toast. Michael gave a toast. And then, poof, we spewed bubbly through our nostrils in disbelief.

"Y'all do it up right, you hear?" Irvin shouted as he bolted for the door. "I've got a football season to get ready for."

Suburban legend has it that Irvin soon thereafter rekindled his nightlife zest. But that night, like you, we didn't believe he was poopin' his own party. Until we spotted Irvin well after midnight--working out in the Cowboys' weight room.

Now: Ring of Honor. Later: Hall of Fame. Forever: Three Kings.

You'd have to be crazier than Ray to think we'll ever be treated to three more productive, provocative Cowboys in the same huddle than Troy, Emmitt and Michael.

Even if they aren't triplets.

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