It is sad to see the players I grew up cheering become eligible for the Hall of Fame, and recent years have told me "You're all growns up". Dr. Z of SI fame has an article on who he is voting for this year. I am sad to see the Triplets of Dallas fame start their Hall of Fame campaigns. Michael Irvin was up for entry last year, and will most likely enter this year. Troy Aikman is up for the first time, and will most likely be in on his first chance. Being a fan during Aikman's run with the Cowboys and living in New England, I heard a lot of talk about him being "just" the guy in the middle of the Cowboys machine. Since the emergence of Tom Brady, that talk has vanished and been replaced by a more positive view of Aikman's career (same for Derek Jeter).
If you take a look at Troy Aikman's statistics here or here, you see an good quarterback that came into his own in his 3rd season in the league. If you look at his postseason stats, he really stands out. In exactly 16 games he is a 63.7% passer with 3849 yards thrown, 24 TDs and 17 INTs. If you look at his stats excluding his final 4 playoff games, the TD/INT ratio is 22/9. Excluding those final 4 playoff games, Aikman threw for 252 yds/game and completed 68% of his passes. There is no wonder why the Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls; even if you stuffed the ground game, you had to deal with a QB who would pick you apart. Aikman was an adroit passer who used all his weapons. He read defenses well, used his tight end Jay Novacek as a safety valve, and did not force throws. Aikman would make his reads and if nothing was open, turned to his left to toss it to Emmitt Smith. If you've ever seen an NFL Films special on him or the Cowboys of the 90s, you know he was a leader who was loyal to his men. Michael Irvin said prior to starting his tell all book on his NFL days that the only player who is considered safe is Troy Aikman. He said that Aikman is beyond touch because he is the only player who stood by his side during his coke and hoes trouble, calling Michael and offering emotional support during his dark times.
On the game's biggest stage, Aikman performed extremely well. Aaron Schatz wrote an article for ESPN's Page 2 that broke down each QB performance in the Super Bowl prior to SB 39. Aikman's 3 SB performances are all in the top 20: SB 27 was no. 7, SB 28 was no. 20 and SB 30 was no. 16. He performed well when it mattered. I think it is important to note that SB 30 against the Steelers was rated higher than SB 28 against the Bills. In SB 28, Emmitt Smith put in a monster game, carrying the offensive load after the defense shut down the Bills, again. In SB 30, the Cowboys needed throws from Aikman because Smith was controlled. In a perfect contrast to Neil O'Donnell, Aikman hit 65% of his passes and threw no picks. He was an efficient machine in prime time spots. In that game, Aikman came up with some big throws, which is what helps separate him from nomal QBs. He knew when a deep ball was needed to make a statement to an opponent. What Dallas fan can forget the Hail Mary pass to Alvin Harper prior to halftime against the 11-0 Redskins in 1991? Those intangibles (leadership, loyalty to teammates, sense of the moment) and performance when it mattered most are what made him a Hall of Famer.
As a teenager, I used to say that I would take Roger Staubach over Troy Aikman if I had to choose one QB to lead Dallas in a playoff game. I put Aikman's ability down a bit because his numbers did not match contemporaries. Smith was the man for that offense, wasn't he? I was blinded a bit by the Triplets talk, forgetting that Staubach had Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Tony & Calvin Hill for weapons. Looking at things now, I would have Aikman standing at the line, calling the shots. Thank you, Troy.