From a young age, Troy Aikman remembered only ever wanting to be a professional athlete. Now, after 12 years of playing football for the Dallas Cowboys and 21 years of being an NFL sportscaster, the Hall of Fame quarterback can look back on his life and see the ways his dreams — both wished for and unexpected — became a reality.
Aikman was born and raised in Southern California until he was 12 when his family moved to Oklahoma. During this time, his primary passion wasn’t football but baseball.
“(If) I had stayed in California, I probably would’ve gone on to play college baseball and, hopefully then, professionally,” Aikman says. “My first love, which was baseball, then became football once I got into high school.”
While attending the University of Oklahoma, he played football for two years, broke his leg and later transferred to UCLA. He played for UCLA for two years and was finally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.
After 12 years with the Cowboys, he retired from professional football in 2000. Before retiring, he had called some NFL games for FOX and later stepped into NFL sportscasting after he retired, which he has now been doing for 21 years and counting.
Aikman’s journey wasn’t necessarily linear — jumping from wanting to be a professional baseball player to professional football player and now aimed at being the best broadcaster he can be.
“Broadcasting wasn’t something I thought I would do when I was done playing football. I had no interest,” Aikman remembers. “But when I went to Europe and did these games, I really enjoyed it.”
The Hall of Famer credits his accomplishments to surrounding himself with a talented community and working hard through and through. He doesn’t believe in shortcuts nor does he believe that things are simply handed to you.
“For long-term success, there’s no way around putting in the time and work,” Aikman says. “There are a lot of people who want to be healthy and in shape, but are they willing to put in the time and effort that’s required to do it? You’ve gotta be disciplined.”
Commitment is key to making dreams happen, and Aikman would be the first to admit that he’s not afraid of hard work — he never has been. He claims that if something is truly important to him, that, in and of itself, is enough to go all in and achieve his goals.
This ideal was clearly seen in his high school years. While his friends pursued their own endeavors, he would be training and working out at the gym. He specifically recalls going to the weight room to work out at midnight immediately after basketball games and not leaving until around 1:30 in the morning.
“Achieving everything I wanted to as an athlete and my long-term goals were really important to me,” Aikman says. “So I didn’t view it as much as a sacrifice but a much bigger picture on where I wanted to be.”
But with these dreams and steps to accomplish his goals came hardships, too. Moving to Oklahoma was a setback for Aikman as it was a huge change in terms of the ease of accessibility to spaces where he could train and work out. He went from living in Southern California where he could easily ride his bike anywhere and meet up with his friends for practice to living in Oklahoma where he lived on a farm seven miles outside of town.
Additionally, in Oklahoma, he broke his leg and had to transfer schools. Even later, once he started his professional football career with the Cowboys, it wasn’t smooth sailing. During his rookie year, he never won a game.
“When we look at others and see people who have been successful, we tend to think it came easy for them and don’t see the hardships,” Aikman says. “We don’t see the hours that were put in to master their craft.”
During the more difficult seasons of life, Aikman had to learn to stay the course, harness strength from within and trust in the process with the belief that better days will come again. Although not many people have the opportunity to live out their dreams of being professional athletes, Aikman says it’s still important to have these dreams and the ability to pursue them.
“When I said to my parents, ‘I want to be a professional athlete,’ when I was young, they never said, ‘Look, not many kids get the chance to do that. You should maybe consider other things,’” Aikman says. “Never did they damper my enthusiasm for what my dreams were as a young boy, so I learned from that.”
Aikman believes that though not all dreams are fulfilled, the imagination and resolve we have can be just what we need to discover and step into other opportunities.
“Through hard work, making good decisions and surrounding yourself with good people, maybe you come up short in what ultimately was your goal,” Aikman says. “But so many other things open up for you so you (can) live a fulfilled life with purpose.”
Along with his athletic dreams, Aikman has been pursuing his business dream for over two years of launching a beer called EIGHT, which is hitting bars/restaurants in Texas this month and stores next month.