IRVING, Texas -- As always, Troy Aikman came to Texas Stadium with his game face on.
He brought an inch-thick stack of index cards and enough family and friends to fill a ballroom. Banners from the three Super Bowls he won hung from the hole-in-the-roof visible behind him.
But when it came time to talk about the end of his 12-year career, the usually unflappable quarterback was overcome by emotion.
A few sentences into his nearly 1 1/2-hour retirement news conference Monday, Aikman put down the cards, took a breath and dragged a finger beneath and above his left eye.
'You watch and you think your time will never come. And my time's come.'
--Troy Aikman, Former Cowboys quarterback
''You watch and you think your time will never come,'' Aikman said slowly. ''And my time's come.''
Aikman called it a career 33 days after being waived by the Dallas Cowboys.
While he believes he can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL, the right job wasn't out there.
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So rather than risk suffering an 11th concussion or taking another hit on his aching back, the 34-year-old Aikman ended his playing career and is preparing to start another as a broadcaster.
''I know it's the right thing for me because of my health, concussions, the back problems I've had,'' Aikman said. ''It took its toll.''
Aikman is close to finalizing a deal with Fox to replace Matt Millen as the partner for play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton, an industry source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. An announcement could come as early as Tuesday, the source said.
Aikman's life is rapidly changing. He recently moved to California and in late August his wife is due to have their first child. The couple also is raising an 11-year-old daughter from her previous marriage.
''I wanted to play. I just can't do that anymore,'' Aikman said. ''I think when all things are considered it was the right thing for me and my family.''
Aikman bit his lip as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones introduced the first player he ever drafted and reminisced about the rise of the team and the quarterback.
Before he turned the microphone over to Aikman, Jones presented a video prepared by NFL Films. It began with home movies from Aikman's youth and featured great moments from his career.
Aikman told about going to the Green Bay Packers' final game in 1988 and rooting for them to win so Dallas would have the top pick in the draft. The Packers won and, before leaving the stadium, Aikman bought a Cowboys cap.
Dallas made Aikman the first pick in 1989 and also drafted Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert.
''One of the most meaningful things in my career was coming in with that group,'' Aikman said.
He recalled losing the first 11 games of his career and thanked former teammates and coaches for propping up his confidence during that time. He said that type of character was the hallmark of Dallas' Super Bowl champion teams in 1992, '93 and '95.
''There was no animosity, no selfishness, nobody wanting any more credit than the next guy,'' he said. ''We just wanted to win.
''There have been a lot of teams in this league that have been more talented than those teams were, but they didn't come close to accomplishing what we did because the chemistry of that ballclub and unselfish manner in which we played. You can't beat that combination.''
Then, showing the candor that will serve him well in broadcasting, Aikman added: ''Maybe over recent years we've lost sight of that. It's become a game that everybody's in it for themselves.''
Aikman talked about the things he'll miss, such as the locker room after a big win, and the things he won't, like facing reporters after a big loss.
He also thanked scores of people. He named 18 offensive linemen, about a dozen coaches, including Barry Switzer, and practically every member of the Cowboys' organization, including Jones and his family.
He had trouble talking about specific teammates, especially ''The Triplets'' -- himself, receiver Michael Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith.
''I loved it when they called us that,'' Aikman said, teary-eyed. ''I told Emmitt when I saw him earlier, 'There's nothing I would've loved more than to be on the field when you break Walter Payton's record.'''
Sitting in the second row, Smith draped an arm around Irvin and both bit their lips as they held back their emotions.
''All three of us stepped up,'' said Smith, who is 1,561 yards behind Payton's career rushing mark. ''We all pushed one another.
''He probably was the laid-back one, but he was the stubborn one, too. His stubbornness was really his way of showing that losing was not an option.''
Aikman never lost his desire to win, but age and injuries sapped his ability.
He missed five games last year with injuries and was knocked out of three more in the first quarter. He suffered four of his 10 concussions in his last 20 starts.
When Aikman played last season, he lacked his trademark arm strength and accuracy. He had the worst QB rating among NFC starters.
The Cowboys waived him March 7, one day before owing him a $7 million bonus and seven-year contract extension
A few weeks into being a free agent for the first time, Aikman told agent Leigh Steinberg he was finally ready to considering a job in broadcasting. Networks have been interested in Aikman since he did color commentary on NFL Europe games for Fox two years ago.
Aikman's legacy begins with his three Super Bowl titles. Only Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw won as many.
His 90 wins in 1990s are the most by any quarterback in any decade. Aikman also won his first seven playoff games and 10 of his first 11, and was the MVP of his first Super Bowl.
Rather than joining Montana, Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas as quarterbacks whose careers ended in seemingly foreign uniforms, Aikman will forever be a Cowboy.
''It's going to be very difficult to view the Dallas Cowboys the same way,'' Johnston said.
Aikman also joins the list of NFL stars who have retired at least partly because of concussions.
Other notables include Steve Young, who reluctantly quit last summer, and Roger Staubach, who led Dallas to two Super Bowl titles before retiring in March 1980 at age 38.
''I'm looking forward to being a supporter of the Dallas Cowboys,'' Aikman said. ''I want to watch them win another Super Bowl. I know it's going to happen.''
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