Eight Is Enough

Spit happens.

Sometimes saliva mixes with chewing tobacco and is expectorated into the bottom of a Coke can. Sometimes the pungent concoction is left sitting in the can long enough to begin coagulating. Sometimes that almost-empty can gets set down right beside the almost-empty one you are drinking from. Sometimes you thirstily pick up the wrong can and...

I'll give you a minute to gag.

That traumatic tale comes with a silver, albeit slimy, lining. If you're going to slurp stale saliva produced by a human other than Anna Kournikova, you could do a lot worse than brand-spankin'-new Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.

Like he did most obstacles during his legendary 12-year career, the unflappable Cowboys quarterback overcame his faux guilt about the sickening spit incident with yours truly in '93. (I, conversely, still become violently squeamish around Coke products, Mean Joe Greene, spittoons, baseball dugouts and Sean Taylor.) Last weekend, Aikman completed his slippery slope to stardom right through the front doors of Canton as one of the NFL's all-time greats. During a week of tributes, we heard stories about Aikman on the field, memories from his childhood, news of his bustling post-football career and even his nonchalant acceptance into football's greatest shrine.

"No bones about it, it's the greatest individual athletic achievement in my life," Aikman said during Saturday's official announcement at Super Bowl XL in Detroit. "At the same time, I never sat back during my career and said, 'I want to be in the Hall of Fame.' It was just never a priority with me like winning was."

As a Cowboys beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from '89 to'95, I was fortunate enough to berate No. 8 between the lines yet befriend Troy off the field. Far from the slick, successful professional who, these days, is Fox's No. 1 NFL analyst, owner of Troy Aikman Ford, co-owner of the Hall of Fame Racing NASCAR team with Roger Staubach and a devoted husband and father, Aikman back then was just a guy. Taller, buffer and unfathomably richer than you or me. But still a beer-chuggin', skirt-chasin', All-American male who purposely spit into cans and laughed hysterically when someone accidentally drank it.

Now: A 40-something conglomerate who lives in Plano, pitches countless products and flies around the country in his private jet.

Then: A 20-something who lived in Hackberry Creek and drove around in a Yukon when he wasn't eating Lucky Charms, singing in Farm Aid V, having cancerous moles removed from his back or boinking country music divas.

Visit his Hall of Fame bust and learn about his unprecedented accuracy, 33,000 passing yards, six Pro Bowls and, of course, the three Super Bowls. But here's betting it won't tell the whole truth about Troy Kenneth Aikman, who was approachable, genuine and, most of all, more human than super.

Panty raid: With his rugged looks and rocket arm, every man wanted to be like Aikman, and every woman--from models to MILFs to MINFs (ya know, the ones you'd never)--wanted to be with him. As we got gas in Valley Ranch in '92, Aikman was approached by two attractive women asking for an autograph. After he obliged, the satisfied duo retreated to their car. Aikman shrugged. "Happens all the time." But as we pulled away, the women approached again, this time leaving a thank-you note: panties tucked under his windshield wiper. Said Aikman, "That doesn't happen nearly enough."

Thou shalt ramble: Upon hearing my guest appearance on a local sports radio talk show one night, Aikman called with a critique. During a rambling rip job he found it amusing that he'd talked up most of my answering machine tape. (Don't laugh, the things were technophat back in '91.) Sapped of material but set on destruction, there was a short pause followed by a rustling. "In the beginning... " And 12 minutes later I was burdened with a full tape of Aikman reading Genesis, complete with dramatic, "Hmm, I didn't know that"s.

Got milk?: After an afternoon playing racquetball at Valley Ranch in '93, a group arrived at Aikman's modest mansion to find three trespassers taking pictures on his back patio. Amused by the trio's boldness, Aikman carefully opened his upstairs sliding glass door and let out a playful "Boo!" that sent them scrambling over the fence. After pizza arrived I scoured the fridge for a Dr Pepper or beer or Bartles & Jaymes. Greeted only by two cartons of milk, I deduced that Aikman had not only been trespassed upon but also burgled. "No," he said, "that's all I drink."

Hawaiian punch: On Waikiki Beach at the '93 Pro Bowl, we ended an interview with plans to attend a luau. The party was followed by celebratory drinks with two new female "acquaintances," which deteriorated/escalated into "Truth or Dare." My dare was to sing a karaoke song of Aikman's choosing in exchange for him paying for a private ocean cruise for the four of us the following night. Aikman laughed uncontrollably as I belted out a version of "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" that would've prompted Simon to quit on the spot. Unfortunately, the joke was on me the next day at the Pro Bowl when Aikman mysteriously left the game at halftime, leaving me to explain to the women why there was no Troy and no Star-Telegram per diem for cruises. Aikman's punch line awaited me on my answering machine: "Gotcha!"

Super media day: At Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Aikman called out of the blue to say he was coming to pick me up. It was Monday, the day before the traditional Media Day, so the impromptu visit was out of the ordinary. "What's up?" I asked. Said Troy, "Let's just hang out. I need to get away." While the rest of the Cowboys and Bills were being chauffeured around in stretch limos, the imminent Super Bowl MVP disappeared from sports' brightest spotlight in a rented Lincoln. "Ever been to UCLA?" asked the biggest Bruin. During our four-hour tour, Aikman ignored a phone call from Bills quarterback Jim Kelly inviting him to Gladstone's for lunch. Instead, Aikman tried to dine at the UCLA student center but was denied when we arrived five minutes after closing. "Guess we'd better win Sunday or I'll go hungry around here," Aikman joked. And with that, my coolest lunch ever became vending-machine Gatorade and Twix bars leisurely consumed while watching a pick-up basketball game in Pauley Pavilion.

Now a Hall-of-Famer, there's no more hiding for Aikman. From the limelight. Or the really good stories. Gotcha!

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt