Troy Aikman: Why Everyone Loves the Big Game

Troy Aikman
Kevin Lynch/Fox

Born within two months of each other, Troy Aikman and the Super Bowl have forged a close connection. Both will be 51 this year, and it’s Aikman’s fifth time as a Super Bowl analyst for Fox. He’s also played in three championships (in 1993, 1994 and 1996) as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and won them all. Aikman earned MVP honors in his first appearance, completing four touchdown passes in a 52–17 win over the Buffalo Bills. Here, he reflects on the significance of the Super Bowl—among the most-watched programs in TV history—and getting ready for the game on the field and in the booth.

Super Bowl Sunday has become an unofficial holiday. Obviously, football’s a really popular sport, but there are people who don’t follow the game and still get excited about watching the Super Bowl. It’s “winner take all,” and I think that appeals to the masses, as opposed to the best-of-seven series like you see in basketball or baseball.

The first Super Bowl I remember watching was the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders in 1977. I liked players from both teams. But what I recall more than the football game was standing up for the national anthem and telling my mom and dad they needed to get up. I would always stand for the national anthem, even if I was at home.

NFL: Super Bowl XXVII

Aikman celebrates his Super Bowl XXVII win

After we won the [1993] NFC Championship game, it hit me that, as big as that game was, none of it mattered now. The only thing that mattered was winning the Super Bowl, because no one ever remembers who lost the Super Bowl. You don’t get credit for making it there. I’m just really thankful that I got to experience not just once, but three times, what it feels like to walk off that field as a winner.

In my first Super Bowl, the game was at the Rose Bowl, where I played my college games at UCLA, so there was a lot of comfort in my surroundings. We were the youngest team in the league, and the Buffalo Bills had played in the two previous Super Bowls. Early in the game it looked like it was going to be a blowout—only we were going to be the ones getting blown out. But we hung in there. On third-and-long, I hit [wide receiver] Michael Irvin for a first down, and that got us going. If I wear a Super Bowl ring, that’s usually the one I wear. It’s the smallest of the three. As you can imagine, they get bigger and bigger every season.

The next year, there was no bye week before the Super Bowl, so we got on a plane the day after the NFC Championship game. I spent the night in the hospital after suffering a concussion. I have complete amnesia from that Championship game, but I remember the Super Bowl. We were not playing particularly well in the first half, but [safety] James Washington returned a fumble for a touchdown to start the second half and then we pounded Emmitt [Smith, the running back] on our next drive and scored. [The Cowboys won 30–13.]

Two years later, we were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX and got out ahead of them. They started to mount a comeback in the second half, but [cornerback] Larry Brown had a couple of interceptions that iced the game for us [a 27–17 win]. I never thought we wouldn’t be back.

Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews and Joe Buck on the field in Philadelphia

Aikman with sideline reporter Erin Andrews and broadcast partner Joe Buck

Those who say, “Hey, it’s just like any other game,” have never played in a Super Bowl. It’s not like any other game. If you don’t play well in a regular season game, nobody remembers down the road. If you don’t play well in a Super Bowl, that’s going to follow you the rest of your life.

That’s the reality of it, and that’s the reality of the job I’m in now as a broadcaster. If I don’t do something well in a regular season broadcast, I’m not happy about it, but people aren’t going to remember it. But in a Super Bowl they will, so you just try to make sure you’re on point and as prepared as possible so that you can do the best job you can. —As told to Karen Rosen

Super Bowl LI, Sunday, Feb. 5, 6:30/5:30c, Fox, @SuperBowl