FOX Sports Exclusive
Aikman brings cool to broadcast booth
Even before he left Oklahoma to lead UCLA in the late 1980s, Troy Aikman had earned a reputation as a prototypical NFL quarterback. And in his post-playing career after leading Dallas to three Super Bowls, he has become a kind of template for deftly transitioning from the field to the broadcast booth.
Aikman will occupy center stage on television’s biggest day Feb. 6, calling Super Bowl XLV with play-by-play man Joe Buck on FOX in front of more than 100 million viewers. Yet he’ll do so without the “Wap! Boom! Pow!” sound effects of John Madden; instead, Aikman specializes in covering games in a manner that seldom draws attention to himself.
“Colorful” certainly isn’t a term that applies to Aikman, in the way it does his former Dallas coach, Jimmy Johnson, or another ex-QB, Terry Bradshaw, who also draw checks from FOX. “Staid competence” is more like it — somebody who doesn’t get in the way of the action and even dares to be a little bit boring.
HBO’s sports magazine “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” profiles Aikman in its pre-Super Bowl episode that premieres Jan. 25, and it actually finds him to be more outspoken than he often is during FOX telecasts. For starters, he says he’d be reluctant to let a son of his play football because of new information about head injuries (Aikman suffered multiple concussions with Dallas) and bad-mouths the hypocrisy of NFL owners for wanting to expand to an 18-game season.
“I would never have wanted to play 18 games as a player. It’s too much,” Aikman tells Gumbel, while expressing concern that unrestrained greed ultimately will become the league’s downfall.
Last year marked a shift for the Pro Bowl — preceding the Super Bowl instead of following it — and ratings jumped 40 percent, to more than 12 million viewers. FOX is dressing up this weekend’s meaningless all-star format — touch football against a Hawaiian backdrop — by promoting more miked players and insider access.
Given FOX’s noise-making tendencies when it comes to sports, as well as the bombast associated with many analysts (see Dick Vitale on college basketball, or Chris “He could go all the way!” Berman), and Aikman appears almost out of place. If anything, he’s become the model for a class of fair-haired quarterbacks who have graduated from finding open receivers to picking apart defenses verbally, wearing (during the recent cold spell, anyway) a trench coat and gloves as their uniform.
During Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Bears and Packers, Buck joked about Aikman’s lack of mobility on the field, but Aikman didn’t take the bait. Unlike so many current analysts, Aikman seldom looks like he’s scrambling and, refreshingly, rarely raises his voice.
Aikman was a Cowboy, after all, and in keeping with the Old West stereotype, you won’t find him engaging in much unnecessary verbiage or hyperbole. As I jotted down phrases he used Sunday, the tone was consistently low key — generally of the “This guy is in a zone,” “pretty good call” variety.
Indeed, listening to Aikman, he’s practically as notable for what he doesn’t do as what he does.
During the Bears-Packers game, he seldom criticized an official’s call or bad-mouthed a coach, even when the Bears’ Lovie Smith was awfully conservative in his first-half play calling. Aikman didn’t dwell on why QB Jay Cutler was on the sideline or go wild when Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji rumbled for a touchdown — holding the ball precariously the whole run. And you won’t find Aikman joining in breathless promotion for FOX’s prime-time shows, adlibbing about how he can’t wait to see “American Idol” or “House” — one of the more embarrassing tasks that fall to modern announcers.
Gumbel, who notes in his report that Aikman was described as “God’s quarterback” for his combination of physical skill and movie-star looks, also illustrates how meticulously prepared the former Cowboy is in his new role as a broadcaster.
It’s unlikely anybody would call Aikman “God’s football analyst” yet, but amid all the fireworks and hullaballoo sure to accompany Super Bowl XLV, you can derive some comfort from knowing that Aikman, like any good quarterback, will keep his cool under pressure.
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