In the booth, Aikman discovered he was a man of many words.

"I learned that in a 31/2-hour broadcast, you don't run out of things to talk about," he said. "It was fun."

Aikman said he might have played for the Cowboys beyond the 2000 season had Fox not offered him a full-time schedule with the network's No. 2 broadcast team alongside Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston.

When Matt Millen, chafing behind top analyst John Madden, left Fox's B team to run the Detroit Lions, Goren offered Aikman an opportunity to start one step from the top.

"Fox made it clear to me if I retired, I would go to the No. 2 booth," Aikman said. "Had it been to work the fifth game every Sunday, I never would have gone. I would have kept on playing."

Being a backup didn't last long. The next year, Aikman got the call that foreshadowed advancement. Madden phoned Aikman to say he was leaving Fox after eight seasons with the network for ABC's Monday Night Football.

Working swiftly to fill a giant void, Fox elevated Aikman, pulled Cris Collinsworth out of its studio and anointed Joe Buck to replace Pat Summerall. Pairing two analysts to replace Madden, Fox believed was the best way to keep comparisons at a minimum.

"Nobody should have to be the guy who replaces the guy, and John was the guy," Goren said. "Who could? We wanted to bring Troy along."

But nobody likes working in a three-man booth either. Analysts get precious seconds to talk. Sharing is not in their DNA. Play-by-play voices find it hard to orchestrate. Neither Aikman nor Collinsworth liked the arrangement. In 2005, Collinsworth eagerly left for NBC's Sunday Night Football a full season before it was launched.

"Troy was more than ready to finally replace John Madden," Goren said. "The stage was his."

In their six seasons as a twosome, Buck, like any top-notch play-by-play voice, has been instrumental in bringing out the best in his analyst. He allows Aikman a wide berth and is often rewarded with cogent, precise analysis.

"He works hard and prepares like he is trying to win a fourth Super Bowl," Buck said. "And that preparation is evident. Nothing is said without thinking it through. And that talent seems more and more rare."