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One of the most recognizable figures in North Texas joined WFAA to talk about the state of the Cowboys, family life and his new gig at Monday Night Football.
Cowboys legend Troy Aikman sat down with WFAA sports anchor Joe Trahan for an exclusive interview, and they discussed everything under the sun.
Of course, we had to ask about Aikman's take on the Cowboys thus far and how he's feeling in his new role with Monday Night Football after spending 20 years calling games on FOX.
But that's not all. We all have seen "Aikman the football player" and "Aikman the TV announcer." We wanted to give everyone a glimpse at "Aikman the father" and "Aikman the entrepreneur."
Here's the full conversation between Joe and Troy:
Trahan: So, Monday Night Football. When I think about it for me, it all starts with the theme. Dun dun dun dun! All those great memories from when I was like five and six, seven. Is it the same for you?
Aikman: Absolutely. Our first game two weeks ago, three weeks ago now ... when we came on the air, the theme music started and the hair on my neck stood up. You know, and it's iconic. It takes you back. It took me back and it does it every time I've heard it to back to my childhood when I was young with Don Meredith and Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. It's an iconic property and to be part of that legacy means a lot and that the music is a big part of that.
Trahan: You know, in college, you ended up transferring from OU to UCLA. Barry Switzer switched to the wishbone after you got hurt and everything. So you went from this great program to another one. Here professionally, you go from a great NFL product to another one. I know there are not a whole lot of differences, but are there any, in the transition?
Aikman: Yeah, it has been different. People probably don't quite understand that because at the end of the day, you're doing the same job. And for me, fortunately, I'm doing it with the same partner in Joe Buck, which is what we both really wanted. And so our booth is very, very similar because he has a spotter and he has a statistician. Then I've got a guy who travels with me. So our booth resembles what we've had for a number of years. But ESPN is about five times the size of Fox. There's a lot of layers to it. It's much more corporate, like in Fox to more of a mom and pop type operation. So that's been a little bit of an adjustment for us in a very positive way. They've been fantastic to us. But for the most part, once they kick off and we start doing our job, it feels like it's always felt. And I've really enjoyed it.
Trahan: You mentioned Joe ... I had the pleasure of being around both of you guys. It was "Good Morning America" barbecue tasting. I could tell immediately that you guys are tight. What makes that relationship work both on air and off?
Aikman: Well, it's unusual, number one, to have broadcast partners to get along as well as we do. Not that others don't get along. They're just not usually as close in age. They don't spend as much time away from the booth. Joe and I are roughly the same age. We've gone through a lot of life experiences at the same time. He has two older daughters. I have two older daughters. He now has two 5-year-old boy twins. I don't envy that at all. And I used to golf, so we'd go on golfing trips in the offseason, and do a lot together. And I think, you know, we there's obviously a lot of respect for one another, but we really enjoy our time together. And I think that's had as much to do with our success as anything because I do feel that the viewers can sense that when they're watching our games that we are close friends.
Trahan: Yeah, I think that certainly comes across the way you guys feed off each other and the way the product comes out. I mean, it's so well done. And I think part of it is the chemistry. It feels like that locker room chemistry that you need to have a great team. On the whole, what does being in that Monday night booth mean to you and your work?
Aikman: It's the only broadcast booth, I guess you could say, that has this historical content to it. You know, it goes back to, like I said, back to 1970, I guess with Don Meredith, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell. And, you know, I guess when it initially began, Keith Jackson ... I've read up on it, but all those of us that are that are our age, you know, we grew up with it. And I guess all kids since then and all generations since then have. It's changed over the years when I was playing, of course, and it was Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford and, you know, then others have occupied the booth, but for me and Joe to now be in that booth, and when it's all said and done, it'll be talked about. I mean, whatever our time is, in Monday night will be a part of the legacy of the broadcast team. That means a lot to me.
Trahan: When you're preparing for games ... when you're making sure that you can be at your best. What drives you crazy?
Aikman: Well, I know what my preparation is, I guess, you know, my frustration in life is anyone who doesn't take their job seriously, or I guess, "seriously" maybe isn't the right way of saying it, but when they don't take pride in their job. And so I do believe that you put in the work and you get what you put into something. And it's what I've tried to teach my girls. And so at the level that we do it, and at the level that we're expected to do it, if there's others that are a part of our team ... and I felt this way as a player for the Cowboys, if there are those who aren't putting in the time required in order to give themselves and our team the best opportunity to have success, then I typically have a real tough time for that. So that's probably my my biggest frustration. But I don't generally experience that. I will tell you, my years at Fox and my time, my short time at ESPN, we were on the No. 1 crew. There's a reason for that. People have taken a lot of pride in the work that they do. And that's why I've enjoyed the job I've had.
Trahan: Let's talk Cowboys now. And I want to start with Cooper Rush. I mean, you more than anyone, know just how intricate and how difficult it is to prepare for an NFL game as a quarterback. Why do you think Cooper Rush was so successful?
Aikman: I don't know Cooper, but just watching him, it looks like he's got a real confidence in himself, which is really important. And I think that because of the success that he had last year, which is important.
Being a backup quarterback in the NFL is a really great job. I mean, it's a fantastic job until you have to play. Everybody thinks they want to play, and I know they do, but then you got to play well, because you don't get many opportunities to then step in as the backup and get your shot. Some get an opportunity, they make the most of it and they continue to go on and do great things. Tom Brady's a great example of that.
But then there's others. And we can certainly name them, who come in for a week or two, and then they're back on the bench. And if you don't play well in those games where you get your shot, then they can't count on you and they're looking for another backup. So there's a lot of pressure on those guys to come out and play well right from the start. And for him to go out and do what he did last year against Minnesota gave him confidence. And I'm sure it gave a lot of confidence to the organization and to the players around him.
I felt that you could see that in the game last week. And I was happy for him. I really do pull for all quarterbacks to have success because it's a miserable job and it's not fun if you haven't played well, going home and dealing with that week and all that comes with that. So I was happy to see him do what he was able to do and hung in there and took some hits and delivered some good throws. And of course, the defense was a big part of that as well. But I'm really happy for him.
Trahan: Yeah that Cowboys offensive line was downright scary and I do not mean scary good. Whenever Dak Prescott comes back, are you fearful for Dak that he could end up getting hurt again? Because that line needs to get it together.
Aikman: I'm not worried for him. But it is a concern. I mean, there are some teams where you look at and say, "well, this offensive line is really good." Dallas has had that for a long time. We've kind of gotten spoiled around Dallas for decades really, for the most part when you look at the offensive lines that have been put together.
But when you look at the league in general, which I'm able to do in my job, there's not a lot of offensive lines like the one that I played behind, or the one that Dak played behind when he first came into the league. But they'll get it together. It's early. And a lot of these young players they just need some more reps and it'll be fine.
Trahan: Speaking of Dak, there is so much criticism, analysis, talk - players like to call it "noise" - that he has to deal with because of his job description. You have been a proponent of Dak Prescott. You still feel that way?
Aikman: Yeah. I love the guy. He's going to have games where he doesn't play as well as he'd like, just like all of us. I mean, that's the ups and downs and the ebbs and flows of being an NFL quarterback. But why I'm such an advocate of his is I think he's a great leader. He's a great person.
And I can tell when you talk to teammates of his and they respond so favorably to what he means to them in the locker room. And they know that, yeah, he'd love to put up huge numbers, I'm sure, but at the end of the day, all it matters to him is winning games. And that should be all that matters to everyone that's in that locker room there. They're all paid to perform.
But collectively, they're only paid to win. And I think Dak understands that probably better than most and I admire and respect him for it.
Trahan: The NFL feels now more like a week-to-week league to me than it ever has, and I think that's a good thing for Cowboys fans. When you look at the overall view of this team, how far do you think they can go?
Aikman: Well, they can go as far as they want to go. You know, there's a lot of other teams that can say that as well. And you're right, everyone reacts to whatever happened the previous week and then make conclusions on what that's then going to look like for the entire season.
A lot can happen, as we know. Dallas has experienced that with the injury to Prescott. Sometimes expectations can change a little bit. But this team is good enough ... defense is certainly good enough. And they've been able to keep Dallas in these games. They were able to help them win the game against Cincinnati and had a chance against Tampa Bay based on how they played. And if they can continue to do those type of things, then it won't really matter as much as to what's happening on the offensive side of the ball. They'll at least be in games late with an opportunity to win.
And so I liked Dallas. I liked Dallas last year. I liked the Cowboys a lot. And I really felt that ... everything just felt good. You know, it felt like they really had great chemistry, they had great players. And I knew that it was going to be a tough game for them against San Francisco. But, you know, I thought that they had a chance last year to do it all.
I don't feel they're as good this year on paper. But that doesn't mean anything. A lot of teams aren't as good on paper. Someone's going to win the Super Bowl and Dallas should be in that conversation. I think they will be.
Trahan: I do want to talk about you, because you have been incredibly busy, especially in the last year. How's the beer business?
Aikman: Awesome. Yeah, the beer is doing great. You know, Joe, we're exclusive to Texas. But we've got the entire state covered with distributorship. We've had great partners on the retail side and on the distributorship side, and people have responded really well to it. It's an easy beer to like. It's the cleanest beer on the market. So if you are into health and wellness, which I am, and you like light beer, then it's a no brainer, quite honestly. And it's not me saying it because it's my beer. That's just the way that it is. So I think it's resonated with people, and it's doing really well.
Trahan: Building a brand is tough, though, what have you learned about yourself during this process?
Aikman: I haven't learned a lot about myself. I've learned a lot about beer. And I've learned a lot about distributing. And on the retail side, you know, some of that is a little bit new to me. I was in the car business for a while. But it has been a lot of work. It's been good, though. I've never minded the work. What I like is that when we sat down and decided that we were going to make the beer, I went through with my partners, kind of my beliefs in life, my philosophies, why I feel that I've had success and whatever it is that I've done. And so everything about this beer is true and authentic to me.
Our tag is "no shortcuts, no excuses." And that's what I've always believed in. You have to put in the work if you're going to achieve something. Nothing's ever given to you. And so, that's what this beer really is. It's what the beer represents. And it's who the beer has been made for: it's for those people who wake up every day with a purpose and a passion and want to be the best that they can be. And they make no excuses. And they go out and do it.
Trahan: And I love the tour that you had. You literally got behind bars, you're meeting people and giving them the beer.
Aikman: Yeah, I get out in the public, but not quite in that setting. And I don't do a lot of autograph shows or things of that nature. So people were excited about the beer. They were excited about a former Cowboy coming to their town and a lot of Cowboys fans were showing up. It made me feel, I guess, young again, in some ways, because I haven't really experienced a lot of that type of atmosphere since I was a player.
Trahan: But you are accessible. I mean, I've had so many people tell me "Oh, I saw Troy running on the Katy Trail," or "I saw him at Mi Cocina" or Whole Foods or whatever.
Aikman: Yeah, those are the spots.
Trahan: You are, I would say, more accessible than most people who are in your stead in life. Why do you treat it that way?
Aikman: Well, it's interesting that you say that. And you very well may be right. I certainly don't keep myself from going and doing the things that I enjoy doing in public. I shop. I eat out at restaurants, and I've got spots that I really enjoy. I do spend a lot of time on the Katy Trail. At the same time, I feel like in some ways, I pulled back a little bit on some of the things that I want to do publicly.
And a lot of it is I'm out there publicly still as a broadcaster, and I feel that I gave a lot of myself as a player and even early on in the broadcasting side of things. And you know now at my age, I'm just ready. I want more time for myself.
So I think that as I've gotten older, and I think everybody kind of goes through this exercise to where I just, I want to make sure that I'm making good use of my time and doing the things that I want to do. So when people see me out publicly on the Katy Trail, or Mi Cocina or Whole Foods or whatever, I'm doing the things that I do in my life. But if I'm showing up at events and functions and things like that, that's where I've probably pulled back, and I've tried to just be a little bit rather than a shotgun approach to all that stuff, just to have a little bit more of a narrowed rifle view and do the things that are most meaningful to me.
Trahan: I know one thing that was incredibly meaningful to you, the Highway to Henryetta music festival. Listen, it looked like a blast. I'm curious, what was it like from your perspective?
Aikman: It was beyond anything that I could have imagined. I have to give a shout out to Tony Fay Productions, he and his team. It doesn't happen without them. And so the moment that when it really crystallized for me was when Blake Shelton was on stage.
I had begun the concert watching him from out in the audience and then he wanted me to come up on stage. So about four songs in, I went backstage and then went out on stage with him. And then I watched the rest of the show from the side of the stage.
I was standing on the side of the stage right after I got done out there with him with my daughters, and he sang the song "home." And everyone had their camera phones going with the light, and I look out there's just a sea of flashlights. And that's when it hit me that we pulled this thing off. You know, it's pretty incredible. It was a proud moment for me. But it was a really proud moment for Henryetta to have over 10,000 people and Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, and Pat Green.
You know, all the people that were a part of that, I'm so grateful to everyone. I can't name everyone. But I'm so grateful to everyone who was a part of it because it was not an easy lift. But we raised a lot of money for a town that could really use it, which was the objective. And it happened. And a lot of people didn't think we could do it.
Trahan: Well, I was there when you made that announcement that was going to happen. So that was really cool. And I want to transition to the next topic because I was there for another moment that you and I shared at the Bush Presidential Center. I got a chance to interview you there and you mentioned the girls going back to Henryetta. Do you want to talk more about something that you and I share? We're both girl dads. I've got two girls. You've got two girls: Jordan and Alexa. And you mentioned them, that was the first time they had gone back to Henryetta, right?
Aikman: Yeah and it's only a three-hour drive. But yeah, they've never been back. So it was cool to go back and show them ... drove out to where I grew up out on the farm and saw that.
They were at the high school there helping hand out computers and, and then of course they're at the concert where I played baseball when I was a kid growing up. So it was a great weekend all the way around.
Trahan: When you think about your girls, I know that you posted something that was really cool to me. It was on Father's Day last year, but you use the song "Daughter's day." What resonates for you?
Aikman: Yeah, they have Father's Day because of our children. And for me, obviously, it's because of my girls. It really is the most important thing to me. And I know I speak for for you and for all moms and dads out there that I've been fortunate enough to fulfill some dreams and play for the Cowboys and win Super Bowls. And now I have this amazing job, you know, with ESPN, but at the end of the day, our legacies are told by our kids. And so what's always been most important me, I always wanted to be a dad. And my hope is that when my time is done, that my girls are telling their kids "hey, my dad was a great dad." And if they're saying that then my time here was was well spent.
Trahan: We all know it's not easy. I certainly know it's not easy. What was the most challenging thing about raising your girls, and what did it teach you about being a man?
Aikman: When I became a single dad ... I read a lot of books, trying to figure it out, you know, what's important? And what I learned is that girls get a lot of their self confidence from their fathers. And so what I wanted to do was, I wanted to treat them in a way that when they then got to the age, which they are now, when they started dating, that they would then have an expectation as to how a man is supposed to treat them. And I think I've been successful in that regard. You know, time will tell. But that's probably been the challenge for me and what I set out to do.
Trahan: They're both in college now. I know one's close at SMU, but challenges of being an empty nester?
Aikman: It's been good. Yeah, it's been good. It's never over. I mean, you're never done, right? But, I've given all I've had to them and happy doing it. Now it's another phase of life for me, and I've embraced it. I will say that I'm happier than I've ever been. I feel better than I've ever felt. I'm not happier because they're gone. But I'm in a really good place in life. And they're on to their next stage of life. And I'm going to my next stage of life, and it's been wonderful. It's been, it's been amazing. I've got parents weekend this weekend at SMU. Next weekend, I've got parents weekend at Washington and Lee. And it's good stuff.
Trahan: What did you teach your girls about sport that you think carries over into their lives?
Aikman: I had three rules for them when they played sports. I said you're gonna give great effort, you're gonna be a good sport, and you're going to do what your coach tells you to do. And I didn't care how many goals they scored, or how many baskets they made, none of that stuff was ever important to me. But those three things, it doesn't matter what your level of ability is, you should be able to do those three things. And they knew that.
There was not many times, but there would be times when I didn't think they had lived up to one of those three tenants. And I would mention it to them and just say it's unacceptable. I think kids absorb what they witness. And so my hope is that Jordan and Ally have seen me do the work that I've done, and work hard and be able to realize some goals and some dreams of mine, that pays off then for them.
And they understand that, hey, if they're willing to do those things, then then they too can have opportunity. And I believe they have because when I watch them in their own lives, they're not afraid to put in the time and do what's required. And they have goals of their own too. And I'm real proud of them. They're very mature, hardworking young women.
Trahan: You and I didn't have to make a decision because we have girls. We didn't have to worry about our children playing professional football, and worry about concussions. I remember it's probably been five, six years ago when it was such a big topic in the league. But back then, I remember you saying you didn't know if you would encourage your son to play professional football? Has your mind changed at all about that, in terms of the way football is played?
Aikman: It probably has. Joe, it's a good question. And I would say it probably has changed. And I don't want what I said before to be misconstrued. I never said I wouldn't let my son if I had one play, I just wasn't certain that I would encourage it. And to be honest with you, I'm happy my girls played sports, but I didn't really encourage them ... I have never really encouraged them to do anything other than their best, whatever that is.
But I do believe that with football as we talk about the sport ... that it's gotten safer. A lot has happened in the last decade that I think has made the game safer.
But the big takeaway is the people, for the most part ... I know there are people out there that will be watching this and they'll say that's not true. My son had this happen to them or whatever it might be. But for the most part, the real trauma begins in college or the NFL. You know, you don't hear as much about it at the younger levels. But I understand there's still risk.
But I also know what football meant to me. And what football does that a lot of the other sports just aren't capable of doing is football is hard. I mean, it's a hard sport. I played baseball. I'd be in there unraveling baseballs and eating sunflower seeds and telling jokes in between, you know, I mean, it's just a whole different atmosphere. You're not really doing that in a football game. And then, you know, times have changed in this sense too, but when I was playing you had to go through two-a-days. It was hot, you know, double days. It's gotten a little bit easier for those athletes but still, with that being said, it's hard. And I think you learn a lot about yourself when you're putting in stressful tough situations. And it builds character.
Everything that I believe is involved in the game of football and in order to be successful, then that's what you got to do. You've got to work at it if you're gonna be good. You're gonna have setbacks. You've got to get back up and keep going, you know, and all of that. So I do think football builds character. And I think it makes men out of boys. And so for that reason, I think the experience probably for most is overwhelmingly positive.
Trahan: Are you glad you got out OK? I mean, lingering effects?
Aikman: I'm as healthy as anyone who got out. I feel really fortunate and, you know, the head injuries that I had, I don't want to say they're concerning, because they're not, but you never really know, I guess whatever may, you know, hold down the future. But I keep a close watch on it. I've had tests ... been a lot of stuff, and I'm in good shape there. I didn't have any knee surgeries. I'm able to stay active. And I know that there's a lot of players, a lot of former teammates of mine that aren't as fortunate as I was.
Trahan: I don't want to end on a downer. One-sport athletes. What is your best advice to parents who have these really good athletes about only playing one sport?
Aikman: Yeah, I don't like it. Pretty strong opinions about that. If I had only played one sport, I never would have been a professional football player, I know that. I would have put all my eggs in the baseball basket, and tried to go that route. But I just watched it, I went through it with my girls. And I see it now that it doesn't seem like these ... the decision to play only one sport is usually mandated by a coach.
And I just don't think that the best interest of the kids are what's at the heart of this. I think it's what's in the best interest of the coach, or these club teams. What's in the best interest of this league? Making money, unfortunately.
Now, there are those kids. There are those kids who just are obsessed, and they've decided that this is their sport. That's what they want to do. And that's great. They want to compete at the highest level. And I say, awesome, you know, have at it. But when a kid wants to play basketball, wants to play football, wants to play baseball, or whatever the sports are. And he's told that he has to choose only one. My best friend, whose son is now a freshman in high school, he's being told he can only play one sport. And he's pretty good at a lot of sports. And I don't like that. I don't like that.
Because most kids are not ... as much as I wanted to be a professional athlete, and as much as so many other kids want to be professional athletes, the likelihood of that happening, as we all know, is not real high. And so to not allow these kids to enjoy the time they have to play these sports and play them all. I'm not in favor of.
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