Troy Aikman Says He Finally ‘Took Ownership’ of the Cowboys in 1990: I Was ‘Really Part of the Problem’

Troy Aikman was considered one of the best quarterbacks of the ’90s, leading the Dallas Cowboys to their three most-recent Super Bowl titles. He has remained in the spotlight since retiring, as he has spent nearly 20 years as the top analyst on Fox’s NFL coverage.

It may seem like Aikman has had an easy time in his football and broadcasting careers, but it wasn’t always that way. When the Cowboys drafted him, they were terrible. But within just a few years, they were multiple Super Bowl champions behind his play. And he admits that he was part of the problem before he “took ownership” of the team.

Troy Aikman’s first season with the Cowboys

After Aikman split his time in college between Oklahoma and UCLA, the Cowboys took him with the first pick in the 1989 draft. The team actually regressed his rookie season. After they went 3-13 in 1988, they had a 1-15 record in 1989 — and Aikman went winless in his 11 starts, throwing just nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Morten Andersen asked Aikman about that rookie season on the Great Dane Nation podcast, and Aikman said “it was really tough” for him to not win any starts and the team to get just one win, making them the worst team in the league.

He acknowledged being part of the problem, saying “there were games where I didn’t play well at all” and didn’t give the team a chance to win. Aikman admits to getting frustrated and wondering what it took to win games in the league.

The Dallas Cowboys start to turn things around in 1990

Troy Aikman holds a football during a workout
Troy Aikman at a Cowboys workout | CHRIS WILKINS/AFP via Getty Images

Troy Aikman told Andersen that the feeling of hopelessness as a rookie helped him in the rest of his career by realizing how hard it is to win and “not losing sight of that” as he advanced in his career.

Aikman admits that in 1989, when the team was already bad “It’s hard to take ownership for how bad you are as a rookie. As he entered his second season in the league, he started to feel “real pressure” and felt if the team doesn’t win, “I’m really part of the problem.”

The Cowboys won their season opener in 1990, giving Aikman his first NFL win and taking some of the pressure off of him. But the Cowboys found themselves 3-7 after 10 games, and then the season started to turn around. They went to Anaheim to play the Rams, who were a good team at the time, and the Cowboys won the game, and Aikman says it “really propelled” the team.

The Cowboys won four straight to get to 7-7, but his season ended the next week when he separated his shoulder in a game with the Eagles. The team finished 7-9, just missing the playoffs.

Troy Aikman credits Norv Turner with the Cowboys’ success

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The Cowboys hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator that offseason, and he immediately improved the offense. They went from being ranked last in offense to ninth in the league in one season under Turner. Aikman says “it totally turned our program around,” which was evident in the Cowboys’ 11-5 record in 1991.

They went to the playoffs and even won a postseason game. The next season, they went 13-3 in the regular season and won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 15 years. Aikman believes “that ’91 season gave us the confidence that we could be a pretty good team,” and they ultimately won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, with Aikman crediting Turner with being the person who propelled the Cowboys to that success by giving the offense the boost it needed to thrive.