Troy Aikman on UCLA retiring number: ‘It’s as big of an honor as I’ve ever received’

Troy Aikman: 'When I think of UCLA, I think of Saturday afternoons and playing with a lot of great guys. The relationships that I had during that time were awesome.'

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During UCLA’s opening-week win over Memphis on Saturday, it was announced that three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and UCLA legend Troy Aikman would have his No. 8 jersey retired during the last game of the season at the Rose Bowl. 

Well-deserved and maybe even well-overdue, it’s funny to think that there was a brief period where Aikman wasn’t sure that he would ever be able to play quarterback. 

As a prep star in the small town of Henryetta, Okla., Aikman wondered whether his skills honed at a small school would translate to the college level. He committed to Jimmy Johnson at Oklahoma State but then one last trip to Oklahoma changed his mind.

"I went to OU and decided to attend Oklahoma with Barry Switzer and the reason I did was because I was coming from a small school and I wasn’t certain that I could compete at quarterback at that point in my life," Aikman said. "And I knew that if I couldn’t play quarterback I could play somewhere. I had the will and was competitive enough to play some other position if it wasn’t quarterback.

"And if I was going to do that, I was going to go somewhere we could win a national championship."

By now, the story is well known: Aikman transferred to UCLA and had one of the most illustrious quarterback careers of all time. Inducted into both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame, Aikman now is an analyst for the NFL on FOX

But the Bruins are never far from his mind or his TV screen, and the retirement of his jersey is an indescribable honor

"It’s hard for me to express what this means to me," he said. "I got the call from Dan Guerrero and he told me what UCLA was planning on doing and it’s as big of an honor as I’ve ever received. I couldn’t be more thrilled about it."

Aikman recalls his years in Westwood as some of the best of his career. He thrived in the culture that legendary head coach Terry Donahue built, and it was a perfect landing spot for him after leaving Oklahoma. 

"It was just a great experience for me after having been through a tough couple of years at Oklahoma," he said. "When I think of UCLA, I think of Saturday afternoons and playing with a lot of great guys. The relationships that I had during that time were awesome. It was really a unique program in that everyone was really close on that team and it was as much a team as anything I’ve ever been a part of. 

"I’ve been on teams in Dallas where we were like that and had great success but those years at UCLA were terrific."

Aikman led UCLA to a 20-4 record and a preseason No. 1 ranking in his two seasons (1987-88) as a starter and has only two regrets: The Bruins never beat USC … and they never made it to a Rose Bowl game.

UCLA’s recent success over USC in the Jim Mora and Brett Hundley era hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Aikman’s hoping to see the Victory Bell still there come Nov. 28.

Aikman expects the memories and emotions to come flooding back. For someone so honored, this one holds a different meaning than the rest.

"I’m super excited to get out there in November for the ceremony and be back at the Rose Bowl, which I haven’t had a chance to do since I left college, and that’s going to be a great day for myself and my daughters who will be with me and I’m pretty fired up about being back home," Aikman said.