Cowboys add Aikman, Smith, Irvin to Ring of Honor
On that day in December 1988, Aikman was the quarterback at UCLA and still months from being drafted. On Monday night, he joined that exclusive Dallas group with Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
Aikman, Smith and Irvin -- known together as "The Triplets" -- were added to the Ring of Honor together, a recognition of the players most associated with the Cowboys' last Super Bowl titles.
"It was made even more special going in beside Michael and Emmitt," Aikman said. "I remember looking at the names, but no, I never in my wildest dreams ... I don't know what Michael and Emmitt thought. Knowing them, they thought they were going in."
Irvin the receiver, Aikman the passer and Smith the runner joined the Cowboys in successive years, 1988, '89 and '90, each as a first-round pick. They ended up helping Dallas win three Super Bowls in a four-year period in the 1990s.
It was only fitting that they got inducted together, the first players from the Jerry Jones era added to the Ring of Honor.
"I can't write my life story without Emmitt and Troy. They can't write their life stories without me. We're tied together forever," Irvin said. "This is a day to remember for the rest of our lives."
Smith's name was already hanging in the rafters of Texas Stadium on a banner recognizing the NFL's career rushing leader, a distinction he earned on that field Oct. 27, 2002. But he was the only of the Triplets to wear a different NFL uniform, playing the last two seasons in Arizona before retiring in January.
"To me as an athlete, this is the closeout part of it. ... This is complete," Smith said. "A lot of the things that we accomplished happened right here. It is a unique opportunity to celebrate it right here."
Irvin played his last game in 1999, and Aikman's career ended after the following season.
The names of Irvin, Aikman and Smith were placed at midfield on the side of the stadium opposite the Cowboys bench -- and the names of the 14 previous inductees, eight of which were present for the ceremony at halftime of the game against longtime NFC East rival Washington. The Redskins rallied with two long fourth-quarter strikes to edge the Cowboys 14-13.
Even though it was a national game on Monday night, the ceremony wasn't televised by ABC. The network was doing a telethon for victims of Hurricane Katrina as part of its unusual Monday night doubleheader that began with the New Orleans Saints' 'home' game at the New York Giants.
While Aikman said he didn't think about the Ring of Honor before playing for the Cowboys, he was right about his teammates. Irvin and Smith both thought about being part of it.
"I didn't always know, but I always wanted to," Irvin said. "I always wanted to be the very best receiver the Cowboys ever had. That was my goal coming in as a rookie and my goal throughout my career: being the best they ever had, going up in the Ring of Honor."
One of the first questions he was asked after being drafted by the Cowboys was if he knew who the team's career receiving leader was. The question was asked by Drew Pearson, who at the time was the answer.
"I said it to Drew in my brash, young, ignorant way, I don't know who it is now, but I know who will be in about 10 years," Irvin said.
Irvin still holds Cowboys records for catches (750), receiving yards (11,904) and 100-yard games (47), including a team record seven in a row in 1991.
Smith remembered going to Texas Stadium, wearing a polka-dotted suit, on the day he got drafted.
"I looked up to the roof and saw Bob Lilly on the right side and I looked up there, 'Wow!' and went all the way around the stadium," Smith said. "I said one of these days my name is going to be up there. Now it is."
Like his teammates, Smith called the induction a humbling experience.
Seeing names on the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium, and on similar tributes in other stadiums, has always conjured up emotions and memories for Aikman.
"The humbling part for me is going to be some kid or some fan that in years to come walks into Texas Stadium and sees my name and that will bring up an emotion or memory of something I achieved on the field," Aikman said. "That's the humbling part of it, and to be alongside some of the great names in the history of this franchise. It means a lot."