- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

Troy Aikman has won three Super Bowls, one more than all other active quarterbacks combined. His 90 victories for Dallas in the 1990s set an NFL record for most in a decade.

So it's a shock to see Aikman at the bottom of NFC passer ratings. The third-most accurate passer in NFL history has 14 interceptions but just seven touchdowns. Aikman missed two-plus games following a concussion, his third in the past two years, and almost two full games with a lower back ailment. Aikman, the Cowboys' starter during all 12 seasons of Jerry Jones' ownership, is 34 and will receive a $7 million bonus if he's on the roster on March 8.

"Obviously it has been a difficult year," Aikman said. "Physically it has been very tough on me, tougher than any other season. There are a lot of things that have to be evaluated by both parties. We're all sensitive to where the team's at and cap issues. I'm sure Jerry and I will get together shortly after the season, talk through some of those things and find out what's best for everybody."

Aikman lost his new No. 1 receiver Joey Galloway to a season-ending knee injury in the disastrous 41-14 opening loss to Philadelphia. Last year's top target, Rocket Ismail, followed suit eight weeks later. The 4-9 Cowboys are on the verge of their worst record since Aikman's 1-15 rookie season of 1989. But this year's failure and the possibility of rejuvenation with Galloway and Ismail in 2001 pale in comparison to Aikman's health concerns.

"It's not really would I like to continue to play or how good do we think we could be," Aikman said. "It's whether or not I can remain healthy. I think that's also Jerry's primary concern. Danny Marino [who retired this spring after 17 years as Miami's quarterback] probably gave me the best advice: 'Play as long as you can because once you say it's over, it's over and it ends soon enough.'

"I don't take the concussions lightly. I understand the seriousness. No one knows what the long-term effects can be. I feel fine now and it's hard to make a decision when you feel completely healthy. The back affects getting ready for every game. The lengths I've had to go to get on the field this year are a concern. It's not something that's going to go away. It's not something that surgery can help. I've been told it will only improve once I quit playing."

Despite his shoddy statistics, neither Aikman nor Cowboys coach Dave Campo see him doddering toward retirement because he has lost it.

"Troy still throws the ball effectively," said Campo, who has been on the Dallas staff throughout Aikman's career. "He has a good arm. He still does a lot of things we're looking for. He's disappointed being where he's at statistically and where we're at. But he still feels like he has some left and I would have to agree with him."

Said Aikman, "I'm obviously not real happy about [being last in the ratings], but I feel that's not indicative of the way I've thrown the ball, especially over the last four games [during which he has completed 62 percent of his passes but with just two touchdowns compared to five interceptions]. I threw five interceptions against New York [on Oct. 15] and from that point on, you're fighting an uphill battle if you concern yourself with quarterback ratings."

Although he's in the top 20 in quarterback rating, passing yards, completions and attempts, Aikman's career has been about team accomplishments, not individual feats. Take away his 0-11 debut and a 3-7 mark this year and Aikman is 101-57, 11-4 in the playoffs. Perhaps that's why Aikman seems even more formidable to the Redskins, against whom he has won eight of his last 11 starts.

"Troy looks fine to me," said defensive lineman Kenard Lang, who'll be rushing him on Sunday. "He can still throw the ball."

One thing's for sure. If Aikman isn't throwing the ball for the Cowboys next year, he doesn't plan on doing so for anyone.

"I've made a commitment over my career with the Cowboys and Jerry has made that commitment with me," Aikman said. "I couldn't anticipate playing for another team."

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