Getting Starr-y Eyed

greatest team sport ever," Starr said.

A God-send, you know. The timing couldn't have been any better. Because as we know, the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will sit in judgment here Saturday over the 15 finalists. Three are former Cowboys players: Rayfield Wright, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, up for the first time. And for some reason, there are those who have chosen to diminish Aikman's accomplishments by saying he was surrounded by so many great players.

As you would expect, Staubach is a staunch supporter of Aikman's candidacy. He probably has seen every one of his games, making him much more qualified to talk about No. 8's Hall of Fame credentials than most everyone on that selection committee.

"He's a Young, Montana, Elway, Bradshaw . . . first-time Hall of Famer," said Staubach, putting Aikman in the same class of these Hall of Fame quarterbacks and Super Bowl MVP's, as is Aikman. "He resurrected the Dallas Cowboys."

Them is powerful words. Think about that: Resurrected the Dallas Cowboys. Say what you want, but until Aikman arrived . . . well, let's put it this way. The Cowboys won their last Super Bowl following the 1977 season. Beat Denver. Staubach was the quarterback. They went to their last Super Bowl following the 1978 season. Lost to Pittsburgh. Staubach was the quarterback.

Fourteen years would pass before the Cowboys would go again. That was following the 1992 season, Aikman's fourth year in Dallas. They would win, beating Buffalo, to bridge a 15-year gap between titles. The Cowboys were the Cowboys again, going on to win three of four titles under Aikman's watch.

Resurrection, indeed.

Now, did Aikman have help? Sure he did. All the great ones have help. Young even said, "There is just something about quarterbacks who play with great defenses, a great offensive line and Jerry Rice." But as far as I can tell, none of Aikman's helpers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you know.

So after the formal interview session was over, Starr hung around. He was answering questions. This opportunity would not pass. Me and Starr, face to face, we would talk, though there was so much interference. Blockers everywhere. And the stage was small.

But thanks goodness, even if I couldn't weasel my way close, someone asked about Aikman. Starr said, "I liked his consistency. He was tough. Very, very talented. But I liked his consistent play. Never way up or way down. Always the same. Consistent. And because of that, he was a sound leader."

Good. Great. Was nearly willing to be satisfied. No need to ask anything more. Got what I needed. The Great Starr had spoken.

Wimp. Go ask your question.

Starr was about to leave. He turned my way. The big chance, here it was, me and Starr. Good thing Doc wasn't around to check the blood pressure.

In light of what you said about this being such a team game, there are some trying to diminish Troy Aikman's Hall of Fame candidacy by saying he was surrounded by so many great players.

There, did it. Starr's eyes lit up as if a raw nerve had been hit.

"That's nuts," he said, looking right at me. "You have to have a great team to be successful, but you also have to have great leadership. That's the quarterback."

Oh man, how great is that? Starr - Bart Starr - giving me an answer, and a good one at that.

But there was more, and this might be the best part, the highlight of Super Bowl XL. Maybe the highlight of the 19 Super Bowls I've covered.

"And the leader has to contribute," Starr says, pausing before this monumental moment, and, as if to further enunciate his very next words, he begins poking me in the chest - Bart Starr, poking me in the chest - while saying, "And (poke) he (poke) did (poke).

"So you have to pay your respects to him."

Now that's extra large, not only for Aikman, but for that long-gone little kid who would sit on the living room floor next to the stereo listening to the staccato voice of Ray Scott on the Milwaukee radio station utter, "Starr . . . to Dowler . . . touchdown . . . Packers!" Continue reading: Page 1 Page 3 Page 4

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cellspacing=0>    So the Super Bowl finally grew out of control on Thursday, Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter taking what seemed to be an innocuous comment from Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens and turning those words in reference to Jerome Bettis being from Detroit - "It's a heartwarming story and all that, but it will be a sad day when he leaves without that trophy." - into fighting words. Porter would go off on Stevens, calling him "soft," calling him a "lightweight" and before it was all over a "huckleberry." He would also promise, "He's a liability if they leave him in to pass block. If they leave him in to pass block on me, I'm going to be hitting the quarterback." Boys, boys.      There were Cowboys, Cowboys everywhere here on Thursday. Ed "Too Tall" Jones was here for some bowling promotion. Troy Aikman arrived in a dual role: To be presented with all the other Super Bowl MVP's and in hopeful anticipation of a Hall of Fame selection. And DeMarcus Ware was here, too, one of the finalists for the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year award. He didn't win. Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams did. But Ware was all smiles, saying, "Man, this is great. We need to do this. We need to get here. This atmosphere is something." Oh, also, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was just about to arrive, which means he would be here if one or two of his players make the Hall of Fame, or if all three former Cowboys get in.      Prediction: Aikman and Wright get in. Irvin has to wait another year. Reggie White is a lock. And the other seniors committee nominee, John Madden, gets in, too. After that, Art Monk has the next best chance.       The NFLPA conducted its annual press conference Thursday, and of course most of it dealt with the Collective Bargaining Agreement currently being negotiated between the union and the NFL. Executive director Gene Upshaw continues to contend the holdup with coming to a new agreement has more to do with the owners not agreeing with each other than he and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreeing. And to emphasize his point, he came up with this little parable, saying, "When a bunch of elephants fight, who gets hurt? The elephant grass. I just sit back and wait." And trying to sound the alarm, since the 2006 season is the final capped year of the CBA which is set to expire after the 2007 season, Upshaw maintains of the negotiations, "We take one step forward and five back."      And the XL score: Unanimity seems to be reigning here, one and all picking Pittsburgh. Seems the Steelers are on a roll, they say, having won the final four regular season games and then three straight on the road in the playoffs. Well, the Seahawks, it says here, they have won 13 of the past 14, that only loss the season-ender to Green Bay when starters were rested in the meaningless game. To me, that's a rock-and-roll. Let me be the contrarian. Give me the Seahawks, 27-24. Do not underestimate the Seattle defense.

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