Troy Aikman Jersey

Nearly 18 years after his Hall of Fame playing career ended, Troy Aikman is still dropping back into shotgun.

The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, in the Fox broadcast booth, stands high above the field at Bank of America Stadium. He’s wearing a dress shirt, tie, and headset. His hands reach toward a bank of monitors, and he subconsciously shifts from side to side, as if about to take a snap. His eyes constantly survey the field as his old team takes on the Carolina Panthers in an NFL season opener. The windows are open and the crowd is rocking.

To Aikman’s left is play-by-play man Joe Buck, his broadcast partner for the last 17 years. Between them, and always within reach, is an open can of bar nuts. Buck jokes that they “lead the league in nuts and gum.”

“Problem is,” Aikman says off-air, “both of us constantly are trying to watch what we’re eating. I can blow through this whole can in one game. It’s honey-roasted.”

Sustenance will be especially key this year, with a new challenge. Buck and Aikman will double their workload by covering Thursday night games as well as their usual Sunday national game. Fox will pay the NFL $3.3 billion to take over the Thursday night package for the next five years, starting Sept. 27 when the Rams host the Minnesota Vikings. (NFL Network aired this week’s Thursday game, and will do so again in Week 3, with Buck and Aikman working both.)

A national audience hears and sees Buck and Aikman, along with rules expert Mike Pereira and sideline reporter Erin Andrews, but there’s an army of Fox employees behind the scenes. The network is issued 125 credentials for a typical game. Pereira sits to Aikman’s right, and between them is a spotter who silently scribbles notes and statistics on blue cards — third-down efficiency, time of possession, turnover differential — and flashes them to Aikman.

Aikman, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1989 draft after his senior season at UCLA, retired as a player after the 2000 season. He has been a broadcaster longer than his college and pro careers combined.

He deftly manipulates the rewind knob on one of his monitors, sometimes before the play has finished, and uses a stylus to make notations on the screen quicker than he can scrawl an autograph. His game notes — and he and Buck have volumes — are printed and meticulously handwritten onto “boards” they create for every game. They’re basically giant depth charts on stiff paper, but with player facts and stories distilled into a few lines. Aikman’s handwriting is so neat it almost looks like calligraphy.

“Everybody over-prepares out of insecurity,” Buck says. “Then I walk out of here and realize I used 10% of this.”

Aikman studies for games as thoroughly as he did as a player. Immediately after working a game, and before their flights home, Aikman and Buck are given thumb drives of their broadcast so they can review it. Buck flies commercial home to St. Louis; Aikman flies private to Dallas.

Buck is typically too wired from working to sleep much Sunday night, so he gets started on the new week. Aikman’s routine begins Monday morning, after he’s gotten his two daughters off to high school and gets in a cardio workout and lifting session. At 51, he still has an impressive physique.

As a courtesy to Aikman, the Cowboys provide him any game tape he needs, regardless of the team. He downloads it onto his iPad.

“I dig down pretty deep,” he says. “There’s a lot to look at — players, scheme, personnel. You start studying a particular guy and then it’s, what personnel groupings are they using? Then you go back and look at it a little bit differently and try to figure out what exactly they’re trying to accomplish.

“When I was playing, I wasn’t worried about [watching] defensive linemen. That’s somebody else’s job to plot those guys. I’d study coverages, study blitzes, and I’d study one team, one defense for that week. Now, it’s four times as much film, both sides of the ball for two teams.”

With two games a week now, the work has doubled. What’s more, there are conference calls with coaches and players from the teams, and face-to-face production meetings when possible. Before the Cowboys-Panthers game, he talked to the Cowboys personnel on the phone, and met in person with Panthers coach Ron Rivera, tight end Greg Olsen and other members of the franchise.

Those meetings took place Saturday at Panthers headquarters in a small theater-type media room, and included Andrews, as well as lead game producer Richie Zyontz and director Rich Russo. Aikman directed the interviews, asking questions as if he were late for a flight.

“Troy doesn’t suffer fools,” Zyontz says.

Aikman doesn’t waste time, either, because he didn’t like people wasting his time when he was a quarterback. Although he is friendly with Rivera, he briskly moved from one question to the next to the next, with the coach barely having time to pause. All the while, Aikman took notes on his laptop. Andrews would mix in some questions as well, hers more to do with injuries and background stories more than Xs and O’s.

“We each have respect for the information the other needs to get,” Andrews says. “There’s a great rhythm there.”

When Aikman was a player, the production meetings were usually pretty informal.

“[John] Madden and [Pat] Summerall did most of our games,” Aikman says. “It got to a point where we didn’t really talk much football. I’d just go in there and we’d sit down and kind of BS and laugh. And then at the end of my career when we weren’t very good, John was almost like my therapist. I’d come in and talk to him about things I knew weren’t going to be on the air.”

Like any good quarterback, Aikman is all about clock management. His longest question is a full sentence. Most are a word or two.

“You try to be respectful of guys’ time,” he says. “This is, in a way, an inconvenience for them. So I try to be mindful of that.”

Aikman remembered an instance as a player when he met an analyst who seemed to want to chit-chat. It didn’t go well.

“I said, ‘Listen, if you want to know how I’m doing, I’ll get up and leave right now,’” Aikman recalls. “If you want to know about the game, I’m happy to talk about the game. But we’re not going to sit here and small-talk, and, ‘How’s life?’ and, ‘How’s the family?’”

As an analyst, Aikman garners instant respect. A lot of the coaches grew up watching him play. During the Carolina production meeting, Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who coached him in Dallas, brought in a jersey for Aikman to autograph. It was for a Panthers player.

After a Fox Super Bowl broadcast, Aikman’s handwritten board was auctioned for charity. Walking through the bowels of Bank of America Stadium, he might as well have been Paul McCartney with the way workers stopped to gawk.

“I’ve seen people stake out hotels where we stay, waiting for Troy to sign autographs,” says Zyontz, Aikman’s producer throughout the quarterback’s broadcasting career. “I don’t know how they find out where we’re staying, but they’ll wait for hours.”

In 2002, with Aikman early in his broadcasting career, he was working in San Diego when the network did a game break-in to say that it looked as if Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had suffered a broken ankle. During a commercial, a producer got in Aikman’s ear and told him someone wanted to talk to him at halftime: Eagles coach Andy Reid.

Aikman stepped out of the booth at halftime and called Reid, who explained the situation. He wanted the former Cowboys star, who had retired in large part because of concussion problems, to make a beeline for Philadelphia in hopes he would be ready to play the following week. There are no more bitter NFL rivals than the Cowboys and Eagles.

Aikman explained to Reid that he was in the middle of a broadcast and promised to call after the game. Aikman had plenty of time to chat too, because he would be driving from San Diego to Santa Barbara, where he had a home.

When Aikman called back, he told Reid he wanted to sleep on the decision. By the time he reached Santa Barbara, Aikman had a good idea which way he was leaning.

“So I went to bed that night and said, ‘I can wake up tomorrow and spend a nice couple of days in Santa Barbara. Or, I can be in frigid Philadelphia getting my brains kicked in,’” Aikman said when recalling the story in 2009.

The next day, he called Reid and politely declined.

It’s that type of respect that paves a path for Aikman as an analyst, getting coaches and players to open up to him.

He’s got the ultimate hammer as far as I’m concerned: He’s won three Super Bowls.

Ezekiel Elliott Jersey

Ezekiel Elliott is incredulous that the NFL would fine him for a celebration designed to increase donations to charity and offered advice to Kareem Hunt and Reuben Foster as they face repercussions from the league for their alleged violence against women.

Elliott addressed these and other topics Wednesday afternoon at The Star. The Cowboys running back began with his fine of $13,369 for unsportsmanlike conduct for dropping $21 into a Salvation Army kettle after scoring a touchdown in the team’s Thanksgiving Day victory against Washington.

“I mean, I didn’t really expect a fine,” Elliott said. “Really don’t care about the fine. It’s all for a good cause.

“We’re trying to bring awareness to the Salvation Army. If the NFL doesn’t like that, then, that’s on them. I’ll pay their little fine.”

Later in the game, after Dak Prescott scored, Elliott picked up the quarterback and dropped him in the bucket. Elliott, Prescott and the organization all came out in the aftermath and donated $21,000 to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign.

Elliott was asked if he found it ridiculous that the league would fine him for dropping money and his quarterback into the kettle.

“A lot of things they do define ridiculous,” Elliott said. “But I mean, that’s not really any of my business, not really anything I can change so I’m just going to keep being focused on this season, keep being focused on leading this team and focused on going out there and winning ballgames.”

Fine money is donated to programs for former players. Asked if he thought the NFL should donate his fine to the Salvation Army, Elliott replied, “I think they should.”

Elliott is, however, appealing the NFL’s fine, according to sources.

Elliott, who served a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence last season, was also asked what advice he had for Hunt and Foster.

“Just focus on your day to day life, making sure you’re winning the next day,” Elliott said. “When you start looking down the road you can kind of get bogged down. Just make sure you focus on the day to day and doing better day to day and things are going to work themselves out.”

Tony Romo Jersey

Traditionally, in sports broadcasting, a color commentator’s job is to explain to viewers what they just saw. But, during the past few weeks of N.F.L. playoff games, Tony Romo, a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, who will call the Super Bowl on Sunday as an analyst for CBS, has delighted football fans by doing something else: telling them what they’re about to see.

Romo, who retired two years ago, after a very good but not outstanding career with the Cowboys, has been doing this since he first became a broadcaster, last year. But his prophetic abilities were on particularly fine display in the recent A.F.C. championship game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. On play after play—fifteen, in all—Romo described what he thought was about to unfold; he guessed correctly thirteen times. (On Twitter, he was dubbed Romostradamus.) He predicted passes to specific players in specific areas. He tabbed a coming blitz by the defense and how many people would be blitzing. “Gronk is out wide!” he said at one point, referring to the Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski. “Watch this safety! If he comes down, it’s a good chance he’s throwing out there!” The safety came down, and the throw, from the Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, to Gronkowski, was complete. Twice, the offensive team did something other than what Romo predicted, and both times the results were poor—one play ended with an incomplete pass, and the other with a turnover. It seemed that, even when Romo was wrong, he was right.

It is not surprising that the pioneer of this divinatory style of play-calling is an ex-quarterback. N.F.L. playbooks can be hundreds or thousands of pages long, and, for each play, the Q.B. must know the assignments of the other ten offensive players on the field. Before the ball is snapped, the quarterback has, usually, about fifteen seconds to set the offensive line’s protection scheme, read a defense’s disguised coverage, and decide if the play that was called is the right one. Mental processing is a talent, like lateral quickness or arm strength, and N.F.L. Q.B.s drill cognitive acuity as much as they do throwing mechanics. (Brady markets his own “brain training” techniques. Whether they work is another matter.)

But that Romo, in particular, would be the quarterback to blaze the trail is a surprise. Whereas Brady, widely considered the best quarterback in league history, exploits inefficiencies like a quant at a hedge fund, Romo was more improvisational—a little loose, even, as if he were just playing with friends in the back yard. “If you want me to tell you the truth, when I first got him, he was an indiscriminate passer,” Bill Parcells, the former head coach who brought Romo to the Cowboys, told me recently. “He’d throw that son of a bitch anywhere.”

If you go through old footage from NFL Films, you can find clips from early in Romo’s career that testify to Parcells’s description. During training camp in 2003, Romo’s rookie season, Parcells barks at his Q.B., “Come on, Romo, you should’ve known pre-snap what to do there!” In a quieter moment, the coach delivers a lecture on the necessity of thinking fast, lest Romo be crushed by the defense. “You gotta get the ball out of your hands. You’re gonna get killed. They’ll be licking their chops. You’ll be like liverwurst on rye!”

It’s not that Romo had a slow mind—it’s just that he hadn’t seen enough plays to start recognizing patterns. It’s hard stuff. To speed up the process, some teams now use virtual-reality video, captured during practice from cameras perched a few inches above a quarterback’s helmet, so that, later, he can take simulated repetitions. The quarterbacks coach at the University of Southern California once invited me to try one of these V.R. headsets, when I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Going in, I knew the speed would be incredible. What I didn’t anticipate was that the action on the field would look like complete nonsense. The linemen heaved, the little guys flitted, and I felt as though I were watching a flock of birds in synchronous motion. It was fascinating to witness, but all the players appeared to be following some dictate that surpassed my understanding.

I asked Parcells if I watched enough film, thousands and thousands of hours, could I or another layman see the field like Romo does? Not unless I was an unusually quick thinker, he said. He didn’t sound optimistic.

Romo, though, learned to make sense of such disorder while riding the bench for three years. By the time he became a starter, he was one of the league’s best passers. He prepared diligently and thought quickly; very rarely was he liverwurst on rye. In the course of his career, he watched hundreds of plays from the bench, lived through thousands more on the field, and then relived them many times over in the film room—perfect training for a commentator.

Much has been made about Tony Romo’s psychic football powers. But how many times does he actually correctly predict a play before it happens?

The Wall Street Journal watched 46 hours of every play Romo called this season. According to the Wall Street Journal, he made 72 predictions this season and was right 68 percent of the time.

Romo credits his in-game predictions to his knowledge as a former quarterback and his understanding of player tendencies and coaches.

“In some ways, it’s like math,” Romo told the Wall Street Journal.

Romo’s fortune-teller ability rose to an all-time high during the AFC Championship Game. The former Cowboys quarterback correctly predicted four plays on New England’s game-winning drive, including when Tom Brady handed the ball off to Rex Burkhead for the game-winning touchdown.

Super Bowl watchers might want listen closely to what Romo has to say during Sunday’s game. The Wall Street Journal calculated that ‘Romostrodamus’ made 16 predictions while calling New England games this season, and he was accurate 69 percent of the time.