Shenandoah singer Marty Raybon was thrilled when he met then-rookie Troy Aikman backstage after a concert at Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth in 1989. After all, the deeply religious Floridian had been a Dallas Cowboys fan since the [team's] clean-cut era of Landry and Staubach.
He expected to maybe take a picture with the pigskin-tosser and run into him sporadically at charity events. But instead, Mr. Aikman and the band ended up talking for almost an hour about country music. It turned out that Mr. Aikman was not just some celeb with time to kill, but a dyed-in-the-wool Shenandoah fan.
"That really knocked us out, that someone who we really admired also liked what we were doing," Mr. Raybon says. When the Oklahoma-born quarterback mentioned a fantasy of being a country singer, guitarist Jim Seales gave him a quick lesson.
Mr. Aikman showed up just about every time Shenandoah played in the area and he also caught some out-of-town gigs, while the group members made it out to Texas Stadium to watch their new friend play football. Of course, this hard-working group could never let a gig go by: It sang the National Anthem before the Cowboys-Eagles playoff game.
The mutual admiration became even more prominent when the band called on Mr. Aikman to play the part of Cowboy Joe in their video for the current single, "Leavin's Been a Long Time Comin'."
Shenandoah started being referred to as "Troy Aikman's favorite band," an endorsement that certainly hasn't hurt album sales in the Dallas area. Meanwhile, Mr. Aikman's heavy rotation on CMT (Country Music Television) has solidified his all-American reputation with the growing country audience.
Although both parties have benefited from their relationship, the cynical implications disappear when the quarterback and the band are seen hanging out together. "Believe me, this is no friendship of convenience," Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezano says.
"We were just so excited when Troy said he'd do the video," Mr. Raybon says. "Not because we'd gotten a football star, but because it meant we'd be working with our friend. That may sound corny, but it's the truth."
Says Mr. Raybon, Mr. Aikman makes it easy to forget that he's probably the most marketable player in the NFL. "Again, this is going to sound corny, but Troy is the most humble, easygoing guy you'd ever meet." The band headlines at Billy Bob's, where they first met the golden-haired quarterback, on Saturday, the night before Mr. Aikman is expected to lead his Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl XXVII. A couple of members of Shenandoah will fly to Pasadena for the big game, but Mr. Raybon can't make it due to a previous commitment. He's scheduled to speak at a church near Muscle Shoals, Ala.
"I'd like to be there, but my faith and my family are the most important things in my life," he says.