Aikman stunned by KU

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kansas University football fans are hopeful that Oklahoma’s quarterback situation leads to a repeat of some history in 1984. That’s when OU came here with its top quarterback injured and a promising but untested freshman from Henryetta, Okla., as the only alternative. That sacrificial lamb? Troy Aikman.

Major upset: Kansas 28, Oklahoma 11.

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford won’t play QB for the Sooners on Saturday, but the Okies are better-equipped to thwart a KU upset than they were 25 years ago. Landry Jones has seen combat; he threw for six touchdowns in one game after taking over for Bradford. OU is 3-3 while Kansas is 5-1, still, the quick and agile Sooners are favored by about seven points.

Back to ’84: With OU starter Danny Bradley hurt, coach Barry Switzer had to throw Aikman into the fire. Only 29,500 saw it, but Mike Gottfried’s Jayhawks took full advantage of the rookie QB. This was a future All-American and pro hall-of-famer?

To his credit, the poised but battered Aikman sat at his Memorial Stadium locker and answered media questions as long as they flowed. Switzer said he couldn’t have been prouder of his gutty signal-caller even though the KU defense had made him the equivalent of a “whipped pup ... but a great kid, gave us all he had, wrong place, wrong time for him.”

Things soured again in ’85. Aikman broke his ankle in the fourth Sooner game, against Miami, in his sophomore season. Jamelle Hollieway became the quarterback, and OU won the national championship. Aikman was more a passer than a Switzer-style wishbone operator; he transferred to UCLA to play under pass-minded Terry Donahue, onetime Kansas assistant under Pepper Rodgers.

Troy sat out ’86, then took over in ’87. He finished his UCLA career with a 20-4 record and a victory over Arkansas in the 1989 Cotton Bowl. As a Bruin, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 5,298 yards and 41 touchdowns. So on to the NFL where he was drafted by the tottering Dallas Cowboys, who had gone 3-13 in 1988.

More turmoil for Aikman. Dallas owner Jerry Jones fired the legendary Tom Landry as coach and brought in Jimmy Johnson from Miami U., against whom Aikman broke his ankle in ’85. The natives got increasingly restless. Not only did they love Landry, but they seethed when the new “savior” at quarterback had a 1-15 season. More sputters, but Troy led Dallas to Super Bowl victories in 1992, 1994 and 1996, the latter team coached by Barry Switzer, who had recruited Troy to OU.

Aikman, now a first-class TV commentator, has played it smart in a lot of ways, including finally showing the sense to retire as a player after 10 (yes, 10) concussions. Dallas waived him the day before he was due a $7 million, seven-year contract. With all his cranial conks, he couldn’t hook on elsewhere, though he tried. Let’s hope all that battering doesn’t doom him to early dementia. Despite the setbacks, Troy Aikman has prospered wonderfully. I interviewed that “whipped pup” here in ’84, and I delight in his prosperity.

But may the ’84 demise of a quarterback-shaky Oklahoma repeat itself against Kansas on Saturday, before a sellout of more than 52,000. The stage is set if the again-underdog Jayhawks can muster the grit and gumption to make it happen.