Troy Aikman, the quarterback who led UCLA through a record 20 victories in his two seasons at the school, has picked the right time to move into the National Football League.
Forty-five years ago, Bob Waterfield came out of the same university and took the Rams to the 1945 NFL title - as a rookie quarterback - on a salary of $7,500.In Dallas Thursday, Aikman, 22, signed a contract that will pay him an average $1.86 million a year - and a total of $11.2 million over six years - as the new field leader of the Cowboys.
"And we're proud to pay it," the club's new owner, Jerry Jones, said, confirming that it's the largest sum ever for an NFL rookie and the third-highest salary package in the league.
The only players making more are veteran quarterbacks Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers and John Elway of the Denver Broncos, the league's only $2 million men.
Aikman's signing bonus is $2.75 million, his agent, Leigh Steinberg, said, adding that his client could make another $100,000 or more annually in incentive bonuses.
The yearly salaries aren't guaranteed against injury.
Although Aikman reached an agreement with Jones earlier this month, the Cowboys' announcement was delayed until the NFL approved the sale of the franchise at a special meeting this week in New York.
In keeping with a recent NFL trend, the announcement was made three days before Aikman was due to become the first choice in the 1989 draft, also in New York, where he will appear Sunday.
"I feel that I can do more (for the Cowboys) than I did at UCLA last year," Aikman said at a Dallas news conference.
"I don't want to get into specifics," he added, declining to elaborate. "But the (UCLA offense) was a little limited in some areas."
That was interpreted by some in Texas to mean that Aikman was restricted by the short-pass nature of UCLA's offense.
But Los Angeles Rams Coach John Robinson, who scouts college football extensively, said the Bruins' problem in Aikman's final year was in the area of personnel, not philosophy.
"Aikman didn't have the receivers last season that he'd had the year before," Robinson said. "He'll be a good long passer in pro ball."