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December 06, 2001

Call him Troy Ache-Man
By Dan Patrick

When I saw the tape of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman being mauled by the Philadelphia Eagles defense on Sunday, I was reminded that Steve Young has only recently emerged from the difficult thought process that I hope Aikman is now entering. To quit or not to quit?

Troy Aikman
Dallas' Troy Aikman took a beating against the Eagles, including this sack by Hugh Douglas (53) and James Darling (57) that forced him out.

The similarities between the two are striking. Both wear the No. 8 and, unfortunately, both have endured roughly the same number of concussions in their NFL careers. Both men have been well-rewarded financially for their football skills, and both men have championship rings.

When faced with the decision to retire, both men had recently been married. So, each man had nothing left to prove on the field and every reason to look to the future for the challenges and fulfillment he had found in football.

Young's career is now over. He was in our Bristol studios on Sunday, not with the 49ers. I know he agonized over the decision to quit due to excessive head trauma and the long-term risks of continuing to play pro football. It may seem like an obvious decision, but you try giving up the only job you have ever had when there is a chance you could continue doing it safely.

Aikman needs to know that no one would consider him a quitter, even if he walked away tomorrow. He would not be letting him teammates down, either. He would be making an informed medical decision about his future health. Now doctors may come out and say that the media is overstating the medical situation in Aikman's head. "Rest will heal this" will go the spin. Fine. It's not my head. But after eight concussions, it is probably better to retire with a few to spare than to have just one too many.

Last spring, when Steve Young was going through this process, he asked me what I thought he should do. I recommended retirement but let him know that, obviously, the decision was his. As it turns out, Young was asking a lot of people what they thought he should do.

I hope Aikman reaches that stage of opinion-seeking soon. After the doctors, teammates and friends, there are a lot of people he could call. Like Al Toon. Merrill Hoge. Pat Lafontaine. Eric Lindros for that matter. And Steve Young. When it was all over, Young told me that listening to other people was the smartest thing he did.

Sunday's battering resulted in Aikman's third concussion in nine games. That's a trend, not a coincidence.

Aikman needs to look around. Michael Irvin has retired and so has Jay Novacek. I bet Jimmy Johnson is fishing as I write this, not working up a game plan. And Nate Newton is now a colleague of mine at ESPN Radio.

The times aren't changing in Dallas. They've changed already. Troy Aikman, a winner and a warrior, needs to change with them.

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Agent Leigh Steinberg discusses the health of his client Troy Aikman.
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