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UCLA's famed former quarterback completes final 'pass'

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Troy Aikman 1When Troy Aikman completed his last season as quarterback of the UCLA football team in fall of 1988, he left without completing his degree. Not that he had much of a choice, mind you — as the No. 1 draft pick in 1989, he was snatched up and signed by the Dallas Cowboys in April and required to report for training camp immediately.

It was the start of an incredibly successful football career in which Aikman led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships and, with 90 wins in the 1990s, became the winningest starting quarterback of any decade in NFL history.

Aikman opted to stay in football after his retirement as a player in 2000, joining FOX’s NFL telecasts as a color commentator in 2001 and becoming part of the network’s lead announcing crew a year later. It’s a job the Pro Football Hall of Famer continues to enjoy.

Still, Aikman was bothered by the fact that he had never finished his UCLA education. “I hated that I’d spent 4-1/2 years in college and couldn’t say I had gotten my degree,” he said recently. For the last several years, in fact, the busy TV sportscaster admitted that he had tried many times to start school again, only to quit for various reasons.

Then, in 2007, UCLA Associate Athletic Director Bobby Field called Aikman to ask if he had given any thought to finishing his degree. “I told him I had," Aikman recalled, "and he said, ‘Well, if I’m able to find something online that fulfills those requirements, would you be willing to do it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely!’ ”

Since Aikman was only two classes short of earning his degree, Field and Mike Casillas, director of student-athlete counseling, did some research to find two online classes through UCLA Extension that would fulfill those last requirements.

The first one, “Race and Ethnicity in American Life,” was an upper-division sociology course that Aikman completed last year in Spring Quarter. He opted to take the second upper-division course, “Sociology of Aging,” last fall even though it would mean juggling his schoolwork with his broadcasting duties.

“On the one hand, [an online course is] nice because it’s flexible — you get the work done at your own leisure during the course of a week,” Aikman said. “The other part of it, however, is that because it’s not regimented, you’ve got to be pretty disciplined to make sure you get it all done. In the fall, I was traveling over the weekends, so I was crunched a little bit in preparation for my broadcasts and trying to also fulfill the needs of the course. But I was able to get it done.”

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Despite achieving superstar status as a Bruin and NFL quarterback, Troy Aikman always felt he had to finish what he started at UCLA and earn his degree.
Judith Richlin-Klonsky, who taught both courses, recalled that Aikman was a hardworking student. “What most impressed me about Troy was his solid work ethic. He completed all assignments promptly and thoroughly. He took feedback well and seemed to genuinely engage the course materials,” she said. “But more broadly, it’s impressive that — despite his obvious success on the football field, in business and now in the broadcasting booth — he has followed through on his goal of earning a college degree.

“Certainly this sets a great example for his own kids, but also for the many sports fans who continue to admire his accomplishments and for the many college students who left school before completing their degree requirements. He’s really shown that with determination, they can come back and finish up, too.”

To honor Aikman’s recent induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, UCLA invited him to appear during halftime of the UCLA men’s basketball game against Notre Dame on Feb. 7. Aikman used the opportunity to announce that he was just as proud of another accomplishment: the completion of his UCLA bachelor’s degree in sociology. The delighted crowd roared its approval.

“You know, I speak to youth groups about going to college, and I never felt there was a contradiction in my message. None of the kids, not even my own kids, have ever asked me if I had gotten my degree,” Aikman said. “But to me, it was just kind of unfinished business. So being able to finish that -- and then to fulfill a promise that I’d made to my mom -- feels pretty good.”

Aikman plans to walk with the other graduating seniors at UCLA’s commencement ceremony in June. His mom, Charlyn, will be there.

“When I got voted into the College Football Hall of Fame, they had a big banquet back in December in New York,” Aikman recalled. “I asked my mom if she wanted to come, and she said, ‘No, I’m not going to come in for that one. I just want to go to UCLA in June for your graduation.’ ”

He laughed. “So that tells you it was pretty important to her.”
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