COTTON BOWL: UCLA 17, ARKANSAS 3 : Aikman Throws a Coming-Out Party in Dallas

Times Staff Writer

Not long after the end of the Troy Aikman Cotton Bowl, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue got the ceremonial dousing with a bucket of ice water, then rode across the field on the shoulders of a couple of his players.

Donahue was stopped in the tunnel near the UCLA locker room by Gil Brandt, the director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, who plan to make Aikman the No. 1 draft choice in the National Football League next April.

Donahue smiled at Brandt. “He’s all yours now,” Donahue said. “But if you don’t want him, please send him back.”


It has been a wonderful stay, but the Aikman Era at UCLA officially came to an end Monday at the same time the clock ran out on the Bruins’ 17-3 victory over Arkansas.

And, if the Cowboys draft him, another Aikman Era is going to begin in a stadium with a hole in the roof in a city called Irving.

What kind of player would they get?

“He’ll be a great pro,” Donahue said. “He’s got all the characteristics a player needs: arm, mobility, courage and leadership. He has all the physical and unphysical characteristics.”

Uh, unphysical?

“You know, the mental edge,” Donahue said. “We haven’t always given him a great call and we haven’t always caught his passes, but he just grits his teeth and gets on with it. He’ll be a beauty.”

Brandt said it was important to realize what Aikman will not be. Brandt was cautious, although it was difficult.

“People have to understand he’s not Clark Kent,” Brandt said. “He won’t take us to the Super Bowl in his first year.”

Presumably, the order for Aikman is something like this: Cotton Bowl, then Super Bowl.

It was kind of nice the way things worked out this week for Aikman. Here was Aikman actually practicing in Texas Stadium, where he may soon work, then leading his team to victory in a city that may soon adopt him.

Just to get acquainted with the place, Aikman’s mother and sister are getting a tour of Texas Stadium today, which Brandt is personally conducting.

For the Cowboys, it was nice to see Aikman in their own back yard. Tom Landry visited UCLA practice to watch him and sat next to him at a Cotton Bowl dinner one night.

Dinner was apparently a friendly get-together. Aikman is obviously so special that Landry, who always calls the Cowboy plays in games, actually let Aikman order.

All week, Aikman was subjected to such media scrutiny that Donahue thought it best to cut him off from reporters last Thursday until after the game.

“He was under the microscope,” Brandt said.

Under pressure from the speedy Razorback defense, Aikman produced a steady if unspectacular game. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 172 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass.

Aikman also had 1 interception and was sacked 4 times, but he impressed Brandt with a second-quarter drive that lasted 93 yards and took 8 minutes 20 seconds.

Six times UCLA faced third down in that drive and six times Aikman made a first down to keep it going. Mark Estwick scored on a 1-yard run, which turned out to be more than enough points against the woeful Arkansas offense.

The Razorbacks had only 42 yards total offense and 4 first downs. Alternating with the 3-plays-and-punt Arkansas offense, Aikman completed passes to 13 receivers.

Contrasted to what Arkansas did, Aikman absolutely sparkled.

“I think he did well,” Brandt said. “All those third-down plays and making every one of them. He did everything UCLA wanted him to do and won the ballgame.

“They didn’t have Flipper Anderson or Gaston Green this year, so they really didn’t have a lot of speed, which is why they kept throwing short instead of downfield,” Brandt said. “When you talk about Brendan McCracken, well, he’s a good player, but he’s a receiver who is a converted quarterback, so they just didn’t have much running speed to speak of.”

So speak of Aikman’s passing, which is what the Cowboys are interested in anyway. In two seasons, he completed 64.8% of his passes for 5,298 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Now, as the Cowboys turn to Troy, they know very well how they were able to be in the position to draft him. By losing. It didn’t look as if they would get Aikman.

One week Steve Pelleur quarterbacks Dallas to a victory over Washington. The next week, he is roasted after playing poorly in a loss to Philadelphia. The Cowboys feel they really need Aikman.

“The Cowboys have lost some of their luster, to be sure, but hopefully Troy Aikman can restore some of it,” Brandt said.

With Mike Sherrard, if he is healthy, on one side and Michael Irvin on the other, the Cowboys ought to have targets for Aikman, who promises to enter the pros with both eyes open.

The No. 1 draft choice? Aikman said he is realistic about it.

“Nothing will happen to me that hasn’t happened to other players who have been drafted first,” Aikman said.

He said his dreams have not yet been fulfilled. Those dreams are about playing in the pros. Until they are, Aikman is not going to rush anything. For the next 2 weeks, he’s going to relax.

Aikman has all-star games scheduled at Honolulu in the Hula Bowl and at Yokohama in the Japan Bowl.

“But I’m just going to relax and enjoy myself,” he said. “Football is going to be the last thing on my mind.”

That’s good. Football has been the first thing for so long, and if the experts are right, it’s going to be there again pretty soon, maybe for a long time.