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SUPER BOWL XXVIII: Buffalo Bills vs. Dallas Cowboys : He's All Set to Run Lapse : Cowboys: Aikman is cleared to play after suffering a concussion, but don't ask him to recount Sunday's victory.

January 25, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The Dallas Cowboys were dealt the first setback of Super Bowl week Monday when their quarterback acknowledged that he can't use the NFC championship victory as inspiration.

Because Troy Aikman doesn't remember it.

Doesn't remember completing 14 of 18 passes.

Doesn't remember throwing for two touchdowns.

Doesn't remember leading the Cowboys to a 38-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cowboys were lucky he even showed up at their training facility Monday in preparation for their trip here.

Because, for several frightening hours after suffering a concussion Sunday, he didn't even remember that the Cowboys will play the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.

Aikman spent Sunday night in a hospital undergoing a variety of tests. Doctors have cleared him to play next Sunday, although he will do so with a sore neck.

And with a new view on the fragility of life.

"I've always had a real fear of death, but not anymore," Aikman said. "Because after what happened to me yesterday, I realized, when you go, you go quick."

The end of Aikman's afternoon happened as quick as a knee from Dennis Brown to the back of Aikman's head early in the third quarter.

He ran one more play, a draw to Emmitt Smith. Or so he was told.

"I had no idea what I was doing . . . I guess I must have gotten the signal from the sidelines and put in the play, but I don't know how," Aikman said. "We do that play so much, maybe I can run it in my sleep."

When he came to the sidelines after that play, it became obvious to the Cowboys that he had to leave the game.

Their first clue, perhaps, was when he saw center Mark Stepnoski sitting on the bench in civilian clothes and asked him why he wasn't playing.

Stepnoski suffered a season-ending knee injury a month ago.

"I remember the pregame introductions, I remember throwing one ball deep to Alvin Harper, but I remember nothing else," Aikman said.

With four minutes remaining in the game, team doctors sent Aikman to the hospital. He was soon joined there by agent Leigh Steinberg.

Together, they spent what they agree was the longest, weirdest night of their life.

"It was like a scene out of the movie, 'Rain Man,' " Steinberg said. "It's scary to realize how the mind's grip on memory is so fragile."

Steinberg knew things were serious a couple of hours after Aikman checked in.

"All of a sudden he jumps up, puts on his clothes, and tries to leave," Steinberg said. "He forgot why he was there."

Aikman not only forgot the whys, he forgot the whos and the whats.

"Most of the time he remembered that he played for the Cowboys," Steinberg said. "But in the beginning, he thought he was still playing for Henryetta High in Oklahoma."

While doctors passed through Aikman's room with no answers, he began peppering Steinberg with questions.

"He asked who he just played, and if they won, and how come there wasn't a bye week before the Super Bowl," he said. "He had no idea they were playing in the Super Bowl, and no idea it was against the Bills."

Steinberg would give the answers, but then Aikman would forget again.

Finally, shortly after midnight, Steinberg wrote an account of the Cowboy victory and its ramifications--much like a sportswriter--on four pieces of paper.

He left the papers at Aikman's bedside for his constant perusal.

"I couldn't even remember phone numbers," Aikman said.

When he finally looked at a list and saw a phone number and coach he recognized, he immediately called offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

But he had forgotten the time. It was 12:30 a.m., and Turner's wife would not rouse him.

"Aspects of it were hilarious," Steinberg said. "But aspects of it were very frightening."

Aikman phoned his mother early in the evening, then again four hours later, because he forgot he had called her.

By his reckoning, he finally came to his senses at 4 a.m., more than 12 hours after the original hit.

"I've done a lot of things that I can't believe, and this is one of them," he said. "But I'm fine now. And I'll be fine."

His teammates have seen a lot of those things. Some of then must have shrugged Monday when hearing about his problems.

"This stuff happens," guard Nate Newton said. "The way I understand it is, you got all your memory in the back of your head and if you get hit there-- boom-- it's all gone."

Newton looked at a reporter and smiled. "Come over here and I can demonstrate," he said.

Emmitt Smith also took a lighter view.

"Hey, man, the same thing happened to me before, but when I was hit, I wasn't wearing a helmet," he said.

"On the next play, I was running, and I went blind," he said. "I had to hold on to my blocker to get down the field. Serious."

They laugh now, but Aikman wasn't laughing Sunday night.

"Every football player, just by playing, exposes themselves to risks that the rest of us would find unacceptable," Steinberg said. "This is one of those times when you realize just what those risks are."

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