PASADENA, Calif. -- When Troy Aikman was a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys and throwing twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes (nine), he admits to wondering if he had a future in the National Football League. What would he have done?
"Like a lot of my friends, go back to working on a pipe line in Oklahoma," he said. But that's not going to be necessary.
Aikman, coming off a Most Valuable Player performance in Super Bowl XXVII, has quickly established his presence and reaffirmed the belief that he's going to become the pre-eminent quarterback of the decade.
He throws long or short, has the ability to drill it or softly deliver the ball to a receiver, and has the ability to improvise.
Aikman was the standout in the Cowboys' impressive victory over the Buffalo Bills. He fired 22 strikes in 30 pitches for 273 yards and four touchdowns.
It would be unfair and premature to say that after one Super Bowl appearance he's the finest talent at the position since John Unitas or Terry Bradshaw or Joe Montana. But he has the power in his arm, a well-structured body and the ability to read and exploit defenses.
There's not much else needed. Aikman is an athlete and never asked for a passing lesson in his life. "I still throw the same way I did as a kid," he remarked in something of a down-home country boy way.
"Only one coach tried to help my passing. That was Barry Switzer when I was at Oklahoma before going to UCLA. Switzer about ruined me."
This was a swipe at Switzer but Aikman was so disenchanted he transferred to UCLA, where he found contentment. He was the Cowboys' No. 1 draft choice and has fully justified the high selection.
As for attitude, Aikman, apart from some modern athletes, is a throwback to a time when players let performance speak for them. "I have small-town values, from when I grew up in Henryetta, Okla., (pop. 6,000). My family is extremely important to me."
The attention that has been lavished upon him this season hasn't altered his helmet size. "I realize how short-lived this fame and celebrity status is. Things can change in a hurry. I'm remindful of that," he said.
Aikman doesn't believe it's fair to rap a quarterback if he loses the Super Bowl, saying that Jim Kelly, John Elway and Dan Marino -- none of the three ever a winner in the game -- were capable enough to bring their teams to the grand finale and can't be measured on the outcome. He's right.
Coach Jimmy Johnson sees the modest ways of Aikman's personality as a commendable characteristic. "The biggest thing about Troy is he hasn't let his superstar status go to his head," he said. "He's committed to the team winning and that sets a fine example for the other players."
Aikman, 6 feet 4 and 222 pounds, says Johnson sometimes has him call as many as three plays in a huddle at one time. It's rare when quarterbacks, in the present Dallas system, go to an audible checkoff at the line of scrimmage.
One thing the 26-year-old with the future of gold does differently is grip the ball. He doesn't throw off the laces and only touches them with his little finger, which is his own individual way of doing it.
And getting the ball away happens in a hurry, as pointed out by Bruce Smith, the Buffalo Bills' active and strong defensive end. "He doesn't hold the ball long," said Smith. "I'd imagine he threw within three seconds and it's hard to get a quarterback if that's all the time he gives a pass-rusher."
The Super Bowl was the highlight for Aikman and there should be more to come. But he frames the future with the past, what took place in his rookie year. "I was really low when we were 1-15."
Asked to be more specific, he answered, "I thought I was going to get my first win as a Cowboy. We were playing the Phoenix Cardinals and got on top. Then I got knocked out for about five or ten minutes and the Cards came back to win. That was so frustrating."
That kind of disappointment is in Aikman's past. He has the strength to absorb punishment, the accuracy and power to reach targets with his passes and a maturity that's beyond his young years. Not much else is required.
It's much too early to order a plaque for him in the Hall of Fame but he brings some imposing credentials and his resume is only in its fourth year.
Super Bowls with margins of 20 points or more:
Mrg. Result ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... SB
45 San Fran. 55, Denver 10 ... ... ... ... ... ... XXIV
36 Chicago 46, N. England 10 ... ... ... ... ... ... XX
35 Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 ... ... ... ... ... ... ... XXVII
32 Washington 42, Denver 10 ... ... ... ... ... ... XXII
29 L.A. Raiders 38, Wash. 9 ... ... ... ... ... ... XVIII
25 Green Bay 35, K.C. 10 ... ... ... ... ... ... ... I
22 San Fran. 38, Miami 16 ... ... ... ... ... ... ... XIX
21 Dallas 24, Miami 3 ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... VI