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Athletes, Dollars and Sense

Troy Aikman makes money from his money

How to spend all $5 million of that signing bonus

Tiger Woods may become world's first billion-dollar athlete


Chat wrap: Financial planner and ex-NHL player Derek Sanderson


 Outside the Lines
Troy Aikman says he is preparing for life after football with the same intensity.
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Aikman has some friendly advice for young players coming into the league.
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Aikman was well aware of the horror stories of past athletes.
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Watch the re-airing of ESPN's Outside the Lines show on money and athletes July 1 at noon ET, and July 6 at 7 p.m. ET. ESPN The Magazine also takes a fun look at the topic in this week's issue.

Tuesday, June 3
Scoring big in business
Greg Garber
Special to

IRVING, Texas -- The jeweled grass is still wet, but you can already see the sultry summer heat coming off the backs of the Dallas Cowboys. They slowly navigate their way through a cluster of orange cones at eight o'clock this June morning at Cowboys Center in Valley Ranch.

Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman went to the heart of 49ers country to get business advice.

On the other side of the fence, Troy Aikman, looking decidedly cool, steps out of a black Suburban and walks into a formidable office building, the new home of Troy Aikman Enterprises.

"Morning," he says, striding into his corner office. "Nice view, isn't it?"

Aikman, the Cowboys' quarterback for 12 seasons now, is the face and soul of the team that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. He smiles as he watches about 25 players struggle in the heat. Aikman's hair is moussed and he's wearing an expensive jacket, but in a few hours he'll be out there in gray sweats with the next running group.

At 33, with a Hall of Fame career assured, Aikman is making the transition from athlete to entrepreneur. Some would say he's already made it. As the president of Troy Aikman Enterprises, he presides over an impressive collection of investments and business ventures that include a car dealership, merchandise sales and real estate.

He has rubbed elbows with the best and brightest of Texas business, from Ross Perot, Jr., to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. And while they press him for details of the upcoming season, Aikman asks deft questions about the market and whether liquidity is going to be important in the coming months.

"It's a gradual process," Aikman says, "like when we were trying to win a Super Bowl when we're the worst team in the league. As I've gotten older and more entrenched and established as a player in the National Football League, I've been able to get more and more involved as far as my personal matters, and that has become very exciting for me."

Aikman's mentor is Mark Griege, a partner in the Dallas financial firm of Robertson, Griege and Tholele. After the Cowboys drafted Aikman first overall in the 1989 draft, agent Leigh Steinberg squeezed Dallas for a six-year deal worth $11.2 million. A few months later, after interviewing a handful of firms interested in watching over his finances, Aikman met with Griege on the suggestion of Steinberg.

"We've developed a real friendship," Aikman says. "It's been somewhat of a partnership to where he's my tutor and he's taught me a lot of things."

Top 10 NFL salaries, 1999

   Total pay
T. Aikman
  $6.7 M
D. Bledsoe
  N. England
  $6.4 M
B. Favre
  Green Bay
  $6.2 M
W. Sapp
  Tampa Bay
  $6.2 M
D. Sanders
  $6.2 M
S. McNair
  $6.1 M
S. Young
  San Fran.
  $5.9 M
J. Johnson
  N. Orleans
  $5.6 M
D. Marino
  $5.5 M
L. Kirkland
  $5.3 M

Aikman, conservative by nature, told Griege he wanted to be financially secure when his six-year contract ran out. Coming out of UCLA, he had heard the horror stories of athletes who had been taken by crooked advisors or spent their way into bankruptcy. The only undisciplined purchase he made as a rookie was buying a Cadillac for his mother, who helps run Troy Aikman Enterprises on a daily basis.

According to Aikman and Griege, the quarterback was indeed financially independent by 1994. Super Bowl victories and the subsequent contracts that come with them have left Aikman in the comfortable position of being able to dabble in the business of start-up business. While he was once comfortable feeding his mutual funds, he has grown more aggressive with his investments.

In March, he and Griege met with numerous venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.

"To go out into that environment where you're talking to guys who have got nine-figure networks, some probably 10, and for him to walk into those meetings and ask business questions when all they wanted to talk about was football was fantastic," Griege says. "I just sat there and watched him, almost in awe and said, 'Look, he's really come a long way.' I think he really had a great time out there."

Yes, Aikman says, smiling. He had a great time out there.

"There's a lot of talk about a lot of start-up companies," Aikman says. "They're trying to get the money put together as far as these people that have great ideas and how do they see those to fruition. It was exciting for me to be part of some of those meetings."

According to Aikman, several ventures that he's helped to fund will soon hit the market.

Roger Staubach, himself a former Cowboys quarterback, has watched the evolution of Aikman with pride. Staubach, who won two Super Bowls, has made his mark in the business world as well. He is the President of The Staubach Company, a Dallas-based commercial real estate firm with 850 employees and 36 branch offices.

"Troy is a quick study, with good instincts," Staubach says. "Troy understands you want to take some risk, get your portfolio balanced right. Overall, you don't want to take on liability unless you're personally involved -- I learned that lesson in the 1980s.

"That portion of your portfolio, you can afford to take a chance. If you hit a home run, fantastic. If not, you're still able to move on. You hear every scheme in the world, with the values that have been created on the Internet. A ton of them haven't broken through, though. You just don't want to get greedy."

Aikman says Staubach has been his role model on the field and off.

"Roger Staubach is not only someone I've been able to talk to about business but he's a great friend of mine,"Aikman says. "He understands the pressures I go through as an athlete and has been a tremendous resource for me in a lot of different areas. I really admire him for the success he's had outside of football.

"I think if you talk to every football player in the National Football League, they want the kind of success that he's had."

And the kind of success that Troy Aikman is enjoying -- and promises to enjoy in the future -- as well.

"I thought he was an awfully mature kid out of college," Staubach says. "Maybe getting beat around like he did as a rookie made him more mature. You could see he was something special. He had that quiet leadership. The tougher it was, the harder he worked. He's got a lot of resiliancy and I think the world of him.

"I wish more players understood what Troy understands. That you have to take care of business while you're playing, not after you're done. By then, it can be too late."

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