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How D Magazine Definitely Led the Cowboys to Super Bowl Victory

Well, definitely-maybe, sort of.
Editorial assistant Eric Celeste hung out with Troy Aikman almost a dozen times to write this 1992 cover story. Anita Moti

D Magazine’s new editor-in-chief wanted to make a splash in 1992. She wanted a celebrity cover, and the Dallas Cowboys’ dashing new quarterback, Troy Aikman, was her No. 1 pick. While the editorial staff knocked around some possible freelance sportswriters to take on the story, Eric Celeste, a 24-year-old editorial assistant, shook his head. “This is the story I’ve been put here to write,” he said. 

Now, an editorial assistant is just a squeak above intern on a magazine’s masthead, and they don’t typically get cover stories, let alone the year’s juiciest assignment. But growing up in Oklahoma, Celeste went to school with one of the top two quarterbacks in the state. The state’s other top quarterback was Aikman. “I was invested,” Celeste says. He told the magazine’s new editor that he would give the story time and energy that no one else would. This was much the same argument he gave Aikman’s team. “I basically challenged him,” Celeste says. “Don’t do this if you just want to half-ass it. I want to actually give a full picture of who you are.”

Over the course of Aikman’s three-month off-season, Celeste met with the athlete on about a dozen occasions, a level of access unimaginable today. Celeste sat in on Aikman’s business meetings, and then they hit up Jason’s Deli. He joined the quarterback at a barbecue that turned into a dance party. (Thus the cover line “Troy Aikman Won’t Dance.”) Sometimes Aikman would pick up the young journalist, and they’d just drive around. 

The 8,000-word story was as in-depth and revealing a portrait as one could write of a celebrity who guarded his nice-guy image like Aikman did. Except for one detail. 

At the time, tension was building between Aikman and coach Jimmy Johnson. Just after Aikman’s Dallas arrival, Johnson drafted Steve Walsh, his former University of Miami quarterback, souring Aikman’s first-round-pick rookie experience. Still, both Aikman and Johnson remained polite in their public comments about one another. But Celeste talked with a friend of Aikman’s who confirmed, though without attribution, the ill feelings with a quote that no journalist could resist printing. Said the friend, “Troy doesn’t trust him [Johnson] as far as he can throw him.” Celeste added: “Given Aikman’s world-class right arm, that’s saying something.”

Said the friend, “Troy doesn’t trust Jimmy Johnson as far as he can throw him.” Celeste added: “Given Aikman’s world-class right arm, that’s saying something.”

Celeste knew Aikman did not want to ruffle feathers, especially his boss’s. (That was Irvin’s turf.) As the publication hit newsstands, Celeste contacted Aikman’s team to let them know about the quote. “I didn’t want them to be surprised,” he says. A fuming Aikman called Celeste from training camp. “I trusted you,” Celeste recalls Aikman saying. The day the story broke, “I was sick to my stomach,” Celeste says. “I did the Almost Famous thing where I made a mistake and got close to the rock stars.” 

That blind quote became a talking point all over the airwaves. It also led to a detente. Before the story published, Aikman met with Johnson to lessen the impact of the bombshell. The feelings the men had been bottling up spilled out into the open. We all know what happened next. The Cowboys went on to win two consecutive Super Bowls. 

This is how Celeste tells the story, with a meeting, an understanding, and a direct connection to victory. “It was crucial to them kind of figuring out how to work together and getting past their differences,” Celeste says. Well, at least that’s what he heard 30-odd years ago. That he can’t remember the source, we can all agree, is important. 

Finally, Celeste’s story made another lasting impact on Aikman. A 1998 Skip Hollandsworth profile on Aikman for Texas Monthly included this gem: “He is always cautious with writers who come around hoping to do what he calls ‘the real Troy Aikman story.’ One time, many years ago, he reluctantly allowed a reporter to tail him. When another reporter later asked to do the same thing, Aikman told him to hang out with the first reporter.” 

This story originally appeared in the April issue of D Magazine with the headline “Silver Linings Playbook.” Write to [email protected].


S. Holland Murphy

S. Holland Murphy

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