IRVING, Texas -- Troy Aikman stood in front of the gathered media Monday afternoon, lobbing answers as easily as he does those 10-yarders over the middle to tight end Jay Novacek.
After all, he has been in the league four years now, and he has learned more than just the intricacies of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system, more than all the ins and outs for becoming a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback and 1992's third-rated NFC quarterback.
Certainly a guy who figures how to throw for 3,445 yards, 23 touchdowns and a 63.8 percent completion rate in 16 games can figure what he's about to face.
And knowing the Dallas Cowboys were about to play the Philadelphia Eagles today at Texas Stadium in an NFC second-round playoff game, Aikman tried to get the jump by saying, "And I'm sure the talk of the week will be whether last time we played them was a fluke."
Cowboys 20, Eagles 10 at Texas Stadium on Nov. 1 a fluke?
"Well, I just know there is an underlying question somewhere this week, and I'm going to figure it before tomorrow," Aikman said.
Well, there is an underlying question going into this game between the NFC East Division champions and the NFC East preseason favorites. In fact, there are two questions, and they do not lie too terribly deep at this time of year, when it seems quarterbacks are the difference between advancing to next Sunday's conference title games or having to say this still was a very good year. And they are:
* How will Troy Aikman handle his first NFL playoff start?
* Do the big, bad Eagles intimidate Troy Aikman?
Pertinent questions both, because quarterbacks do have such an effect in these types of games. The very reason in 1989 that then-rookie head coach Jimmy Johnson did not hesitate selecting Aikman with the No. 1 pick in the draft, saying now, "We won in the past because of quarterbacks and defensive linemen. And that is magnified in any big game, and the playoffs qualify as a big game."
Or let Cowboys free safety James Washington expound on his theories of quarterback relativity in the playoffs, saying of his days with the Los Angeles Rams, "We go to Minnesota for a wild-card game , and we're playing pretty well and then Jim Everett throws two [interceptions] to Joey Browner and took us out of the game.
"The very next year, Everett has a hot hand, and we got to the NFC championship with the same team, the same defense.
"Hey, look at Atlanta. Chris Miller is a hot quarterback, makes things happen and they're in the playoffs last year. Now he's hurt, and what? If your quarterback's hot, you never know where you might end up. And I hope No. 8 is the hottest thing going Jan. 10."
Aikman, the No. 8 who has played spectacularly consistent all BTC season, seems unfazed by the playoff atmosphere, even though he missed out on all the hoopla last season when a sprained
knee turned the team over to backup Steve Beuerlein for the final four regular-season and two playoff starts. His only playoff exposure has been the second half of a 38-6 loss to Detroit last season, coming into the game not having played in five weeks, and the Cowboys already trailing, 17-6.
"I look forward to it, but I'm not caught up with it being the first one and what it all means," Aikman said of his playoff start. "I'm not that analytical. And it's not like I haven't been in any big games this year or last year."
That's Aikman, Mr. True Grit, never conceding that anything can penetrate his rawhide exterior, especially the Eagles. Aikman never even considers his worst performance of 1992, a 31-7 loss to Philadelphia in which he was intercepted three times and sacked four. Or the fact that the 20-10 victory this season at Texas Stadium is his only victory over Philadelphia in seven tries.
He simply pays his respects, saying, "There is a reason they are considered the best defense around . . . Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen . . . "
But around Philadelphia, there is this perception Aikman is actually intimidated by the Eagles.
The same intimidation question was asked of Johnson, who knows the Cowboys' Aikman-led offense this season has averaged 350 yards total offense in two games against the Eagles -- 75 more than they are accustomed to yielding -- and that Aikman completed 19 of 33 for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Philadelphia. "To think Troy Aikman might be intimidated by anybody," Johnson said, "is to say you don't know Troy Aikman."