IN HIS DREAM HE IS IN THE LOCKER ROOM, and he realizes he is all alone. From a distance he can hear the roar of the crowd filling Texas Stadium. The sound builds as it travels down the long tunnel and seeps in underneath the door. Sweat pours down his face. The game is about to begin.
He quickly laces up his pants, then struggles to pull his jersey over his shoulder pads. The crowd’s roar grows louder. Whistles are blowing. “Hurry,” he tells himself. “Hurry.” He finds his helmet. He pulls on his sweatbands around his wrists. All that’s left are his shoes.
But something is terribly wrong. He tries to put his right foot into his right shoe and his left foot into his left shoe, but they will not fit. He loosens his laces and jams his feet in again. Still, they will not fit.
His hands are trembling. A cry lodges in his throat. He cannot get his shoes on. The first quarter starts, then the second—and he remains hunched over on the locker room bench, trying to get his shoes on his feet. Tears sting his eyes. His breath comes in little gasps. The third quarter starts, then the fourth. Finally, the game ends.
And that is when Troy Aikman bolts upright in his bed.
THE MOST FAMOUS QUARTERBACK IN AMERICA FIXES HIS BLUE eyes directly on mine and says, “My life is not what you think it is.”
A thin smile crosses his face, and for several seconds he says nothing. He is dressed in a dark tailored suit as he sits behind his gigantic desk at Aikman Enterprises, a suite of offices a couple of blocks from the Dallas Cowboys training center. Scattered around the room are the accoutrements of one of the most successful careers in pro sports. On a credenza is the bronzed Davey O’Brien award given to him for the 1988 season, when he was named the best quarterback in college football. On a conference table is the most valuable player award he received after the 1993 Super Bowl. In cabinets and on bookshelves are more trophies, game balls given to him by Cowboys coaches, and old helmets he wore in important games.
“I don’t think I can fully explain what happens when you take on the role of quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” he finally says. “Sometimes, I can’t even explain it to myself.”
He is, according to a marketing survey conducted a few years ago, one of the five most recognizable athletes in the country. He will earn $6.2 million this year from the Cowboys, and he will make hundreds of thousands of dollars more endorsing products as varied as Coca-Cola and Brut cologne. In one Brut commercial Aikman plays a game of pickup football in a park with some friends, but instead of hitting the open receiver, he allows himself to be sacked by a young woman playing for the other team. After the tackle, he gets in the huddle and says, “Same play,” shooting a seductive glance at the woman and flashing his famous half-grin, in which the right side of his lips curls slightly upward. The commercial has aired nationwide for more than a year, and Brut executives have no plans to pull it. Why should they? With his clenched jaw, steely blue eyes, and blond hair glinting in the sunlight, 32-year-old Troy Aikman looks like a rugged Hollywood actor who has been hired to play a quarterback.
He receives more than 20,000 pieces of fan mail each year, some from people who’ve written him every month since he was drafted by the Cowboys nearly ten years ago. (His mother looks through all the letters and sorts out requests for him to appear in public, give speeches, sign autographs, play in charity golf tournaments, and invest in restaurants.) Fans swarm him nearly every time he appears in public. When he goes to dinner, women ask him to autograph their underwear or their breasts. They try to find out where he lives so that they can break into his home or jump his backyard fence and swim in his pool. Once, when he went to a country and western club to see the band Shenandoah, so many women began pushing their way toward him that he had to leave after thirty minutes. Country music singer Lorrie Morgan, who has dated Aikman, wrote in her autobiography that she wanted to marry him “more than anything in my life.”
He seems too perfect, too handsome, too heroic—which is why, perhaps, rumors about him abound. Depending on the week, he’s either (1) dating a famous actress or a country music star, (2) gay, or (3) asexual. He allegedly sleeps with a Bible at his bedside because of an overwhelming fear of death. It is said he is so obsessed with neatness that he arranges his clothes in the closet by color and style, refuses to leave a scrap of paper on the floor, and puts his toaster back in the kitchen cabinet when he’s done with it. He is reportedly so lonely that he looks for girlfriends in America Online’s chat rooms. He is supposedly looking for land to build a Graceland-style mansion so that he can hide from wide-eyed fans. True story: In September MSNBC went on full alert after its senior producers heard that Aikman had been killed in a car crash. The network was apparently ready to give him the Princess Di treatment.
What does it mean to be Troy Aikman? Does anyone really know? When he’s interviewed, he is always articulate, speaks in complete sentences, and never says “um” or “uh.” But he edits himself as he goes, avoiding controversy, stripping out personal color, striking anything that might be taken the wrong way. He is always cautious with writers who come around hoping to do what he calls “the real Troy Aikman story.” One time, many years ago, he reluctantly allowed a reporter