Troy Aikman was so pleased after his first day of back rehabilitation Tuesday that he promised he would be the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback in their season opener Sept. 6 against the Washington Redskins.
Aikman added, though, that his return would not have been in doubt if Cowboy doctors had only listened to him two months ago.
Aikman, the former UCLA star who underwent surgery June 19 for a herniated disk, said he was denied a request for a magnetic resonance imaging exam in mid-May after he "felt something pop" in his lower back while squatting 300 pounds of weights.
"I requested an MRI, but was unable to get one," said Aikman, voted Super Bowl XXVII's most valuable player last January. "I guess I didn't have any of the usual symptoms that go with a disk problem.
"Two weeks later, I finally went and got the MRI myself."
Jerry Jones, Cowboy owner, acknowledged that things could have been handled different.
"I wish now we had done (the MRI) two or three weeks earlier so we would not be concerned about Troy on opening day," Jones said. "But that's hindsight, and we don't deal in that around here."
Jones pointed to the case of Dallas defensive end Charles Haley, who recently suffered a strained back. He has not had an MRI. Doctors said with proper rehabilitation he should be ready for the start of the season.
Jones said the Cowboys will not let Aikman make a mistake in accelerating a rehabilitation that doctors say should last 12 weeks.
Under that schedule, he would miss not only the first game against Washington, but the Cowboys' home opener, a Super Bowl rematch against the Buffalo Bills.
"We know it is a long season, and we are not going to compromise that season because of the first two games," Jones said.
Aikman acknowledged that not everyone shares his enthusiasm, even though his rehabilitation, at Jobe-Kerlan Clinic here, began a week earlier than average for such surgery.
"I don't think I'll be ready for the first game, I know I'll be ready," Aikman said, but later added, "Nobody seems to be as optimistic as I am. That's a problem."
Although Coach Jimmy Johnson has said that his starting quarterback must get a sufficient number of snaps in preseason drills, Aikman said he feels he can be the starter if he plays only in the Cowboys' final exhibition game against the Chicago Bears.
Hugh Millen, acquired in a recent trade with the New England Patriots, will be the starter if Aikman is not ready.