Aikman mindful that his first may be last QB set to make most of Super shot


SAN FRANCISCO -- Troy Aikman isn't going to make the same assumption that Dan Marino made eight years ago.

Marino led the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl at the end of the 1984 season, his second year in the NFL. He has often said he had assumed the Dolphins would be back several times after they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 38-16, in Super Bowl XIX.

Marino still is waiting for that second chance after the Dolphins were blown out by the Buffalo Bills yesterday in the AFC title game.

Aikman, 26, made it in his fourth season yesterday, when he directed the Cowboys to a 30-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.

It's easy to imagine him making four trips to the Super Bowl the way Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach did, although Staubach lost two of them.

But in his moment of triumph yesterday, Aikman brought up Marino. He doesn't want to overlook the opportunity against the Bills.

"When we got to the playoffs this year, I was talking to some of the older guys and telling them that, boy, it was really important for them, 10-year, 11-year veterans, that we take advantage of this opportunity because I didn't know if they'd get another opportunity. And, really, it was after the game against the Eagles, that I started realizing that it could be very well be my last opportunity.

"There aren't any guarantees. Dan Marino got there early in his career and hasn't been back to the Super Bowl yet, and so I started feeling the same way a lot of the older veterans did. When you get there, you've got to take advantage of it," he said.

Aikman said it is hard for him to realize he is going to the Super Bowl.

"It really hasn't sunk on me yet. Last week, after beating Philadelphia, I was extremely elated about that victory. Don't get me wrong. I'm tremendously pleased. All week long,

I was sitting there thinking we were one game away from going to the Super Bowl. It's something I've dreamed about all my life, especially since getting into the NFL. It still hasn't dawned on me that we're actually going."

Aikman is 2-0 in playoff games he's started. He was injured at the end of the past two seasons.

In 1990, he was knocked out in the next-to-last regular-season game in Philadelphia, and the Cowboys lost both games and didn't make the playoffs. Last season, he was injured in the 12th game in Washington, and backup Steve Beuerlein took the team to the playoffs, even though Aikman felt he was ready to start the second playoff game in Detroit.

"It's a great feeling to make it through the season healthy and then get an opportunity to be playing in the playoffs. Last year, I missed out on that. This year, it means a lot. Obviously, going to the Super Bowl is especially nice," he said.

Aikman, the first player picked in the 1989 draft, completed 24 of 34 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns and didn't let the muddy conditions bother him.

"Everybody talked so much about the field conditions and the rain and how everybody was going to be sliding around. We tried to block that out of our minds the best we could in our preparation and really just say we're going to come into the ballgame as though it's a regular field

without any mud or any wet spots and do the things we do best. That's the approach we had coming in, and I think in the back of everybody's mind we thought we'd have to back off on throwing the ball a little bit more. Fortunately, it wasn't near as slippery as we thought it might have been, and it didn't affect our game plan," he said.

Aikman fumbled one handoff but handled the ball flawlessly the rest of the game and wasn't intercepted. He kept the 49ers off balance with his throws and then hammered them with Emmitt Smith on the ground.

"It all starts with Troy. The guy's come a long, long way," coach Jimmy Johnson said.

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