“I’ve now been broadcasting longer than I played and I feel like I’m just beginning to get it a little bit,” said Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman, who completes his 15th NFL season with Fox.
“I’ve always known football. I’ve always known the quarterback position. I’ve always known offense and defense and all the things I’m being paid to talk about. But as far as the business called television, I’m just now seeing the improvements.”
As part of an extended interview , the 48-year-old NFL Hall of Famer addressed a number of topics, including nearly leaving the profession in 2008 because it wasn’t satisfying him; how his work gets reviewed; and much more:
1. How much do you currently enjoy broadcasting?
I’ll tell you a story: We did the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008. It was a great finish, an unbelievable game. The Patriots trying to go for the undefeated season, the Giants upsetting them. I was staying at a different hotel from the rest of the Fox people and when the game ended I went back to the hotel. I was married at the time and my wife said, “Are we going to go to the [Fox] party?” I said, “No, let’s just go downstairs and grab some dinner.”
I was a little down, to be honest, a little depressed. So we are sitting there having dinner, relaxing, and [ESPN’s] Ron Jaworski comes over. He was eating at the other side of the restaurant. So he says, “Hey, man, what a great game! How about that catch from [David] Tyree!” He’s all excited. I was like, “Yeah, it was good.” He is going on and on and then finally says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing is wrong.” He said, “Why aren’t you excited? You just called this great game.” I said, “Ron, I didn’t do anything. I’ve played in that game. I won that game. I know what that feels like. All I did was talk about it. I didn’t do anything.” And he walked away and when he did, he gave me this quizzical look. It was like, “What is wrong with this guy?”
So he walks away and I said to my wife: “You know, this may be the greatest game that I ever call. I may have just called the biggest game that I will ever have the opportunity to call in this profession and I could not be more depressed right now.” It shook me up a bit. I thought, “Man, where does the joy come from broadcasting when you have already been the one out there doing it.”
But I will tell you since that time I have not experienced that low again. We did the Super Bowl last year in New York and I could not have felt a greater accomplishment in this business. I don’t know why I am all of sudden getting real satisfaction out of this job, but I am and that has really helped me. The preparation is extensive and I put a lot of time into it, but I enjoy it. As a former player I have a real appreciation for a guy like Aaron Rodgers and how much time he puts into his craft and how good he is doing it. I enjoy the relationships I have with coaches and players. I enjoy the process of getting ready each week. I enjoy my crew. I like the weekends and being at the site of the games, and we get to do great games.
I am so fortunate to have had a career like I had playing — I lived my dream playing in the league — and now to do a job where I get to be around the sport is beyond imagination. The only negative for me is I have my girls [he has two daughters, 12 and 13] and I am gone for six months out of the year. I miss a lot of their activities. I do get to see a lot of them during the week that a lot of dads don’t get to see and then I have six months where I am always there. But being gone on the weekends and missing some important moments in their life is really the only negative.
2. How did this professional fog lift? And how long did it exist?
You know, I don’t really have a great answer. I never felt it again. Of course it was three years until we did our next Super Bowl, which was the game in Dallas. But I didn’t feel that way after future playoff games. I have not experienced that feeling again and I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t want to say everything was fine the next season, but when we did our next really big game, I didn’t experience it. So because of that, I really have been able to enjoy the profession.
“At the time this was happening, I’ll admit I was thinking everyone wants to take pride in what they do and feel satisfaction and I was thinking, Do I need to go into coaching or something else to experience the highs and lows of winning and losing? That for me is real. You love the winning when you were playing but you just miss having so much invested and then not knowing completely whether we got it done or did not get it done. That’s how I felt in 2008 but I have not felt that way since.
3. You’ve been a broadcaster since 2001. At what point does a sports broadcaster reach his or her apex and why?
Good question. I feel that last year midseason is when the craft kind of clicked for me. I feel like I have been at my best since midseason last year. The one thing about being an athlete, say you are struggling with throwing a comeback route, well, then you go out and practice it. You throw it 100 times a day and you get better at it, and you see those improvements pretty rapidly. In this business, you don’t get the practice reps. You can’t work on it as much as you like to work on it. Your practice time is live. I find you have to do a lot of evaluating on your own. I’m asking myself, Why is this good? Why does this work? And not everyone agrees with that. We are in a business that does not give a lot of feedback and you just try to be a critic of yourself. Or you ask other people why something is good for them and try to incorporate it into what you are about but still remain authentic.
4. People who work in regular jobs get quarterly reviews or end of the year evaluations. How do you get your work reviewed?
Fox began a few years ago using an anonymous person to evaluate each broadcast. We also get a report each week — things they liked, things they did not like, things they felt I could have added. Or this was a great anecdote, things like that. It is helpful. But the frustrating thing for this business, and I think everyone experiences it, I use the analogy that when I played, I would be watching a Monday Night game and if Joe Montana threw three interceptions, you would say, “OK, he had a tough day but he is still a helluva quarterback.” In this business, it just seems like really more opinion than anything else. One is only as good as what people think. There is no real measuring stick as there is in athletics. That part of it is frustrating for all us who played competitively and then have gotten into television. But I receive critiques from my bosses each week and the weekly reports.
6. You are on social media but you are not very active. How much viewer criticism of your work do you see weekly?
Quite a bit. I typically don’t read any mentions immediately after a game because that’s never good for anyone [laughs]. But I do read it and I keep it in its proper perspective. For the most part I find it entertaining. I have often said social media is a race to the bottom. But I understand that part of it. There are times when we all recognize when a person is right with something said on social media. Sometimes there are some positives that come out of it. So I do read it and follow it. I see a fair amount.
7. Do negative comments ever impact your broadcast?
It doesn’t impact me. It really doesn’t. I think it is because I was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 years. I have been in the middle of the storm. I have thrown game-losing interceptions and had to deal with that for a week. Whatever is said, such as people saying I am hating on some team, it has no relevance to me.
8. As an athlete, you were trying to reach the top of your profession both individually and with the Cowboys. How important is it for you to be considered the top NFL analyst on television?
Well, that is what you strive for, that is what I work toward. But I don’t know that you ultimately ever achieve it.
It’s like saying who is the greatest quarterback of all time? That’s what great about sports. It is a great debate. No one has ever ultimately achieved that unanimously. So if a fair percentage of people regarded me as the best at what I do, that would be a great complement to me and that is what I strive for.
9. You are a very young man in broadcasting at 48. When you project how long you want to stay in the business long-term, could you see yourself going deep into your 60s and 70s?
What I believe is when my girls go off to college, which will be here before I know it, I think that is when this job will become even more fun than it is now because I won’t be racing back after games to see them before they go to bed on Sunday nights. I might be able to enjoy more some of the cities in which we travel. Having said that, I don’t see myself doing this into my 60s and certainly not my 70s, God willing. I’d say another 10 to 15 years or so.
10. How would you view the Seahawks historically if they repeat as Super Bowl champions?
If people want to use the word dynasty and then see where they rank historically with the Steelers, Niners and us, they are in that conversation. I think they would have to be considering that it’s a different time and we don’t see this now. I would certainly put them in that conversation. What they have done is really special and it does not surprise me where they are right now. I would expect them to be in the middle of it next year regardless of what happens against the Packers.
11. Your crew had a talent switch this year from Pam Oliver to Erin Andrews. Having worked with Pam as long as you did, was that any kind of an adjustment for you?
It was not an adjustment whatsoever on Sundays. Erin has fit right in to our crew and she has been outstanding. She works hard at her job and has great relationships with people within the organizations. The biggest adjustment for me is Pam and I are extremely close, really, really close. I love her to death. She is like a sister to me. So I miss the conversations, her friendship and seeing her each week. I miss the talks she and I would have. They were not football talks. Whenever I had a crisis or just wanted a women’s perspective, she was the one I would go to. She is a special person in my life and I just miss the opportunity this year to see her on a weekly basis. She was very close with Jethro Pugh [who died last week at 70]. Whenever she came through Dallas, she and her husband would get with Jethro and that family. I think that was pretty tough on her.