Troy Aikman has been injured often enough during his 10-year career that the Cowboys' training staff needs a pair of two-by-two-foot manila envelopes to hold his file. The first, labeled AIKMAN, TROY—NUMBER 1, is bulging with X-rays taken of the Dallas quarterback from 1989, his rookie year, through '95. The second includes a handful of X-rays dating to the start of the '96 season.
On this day, head trainer Jim Maurer is interested in the two most recent negatives. The X-ray taken on Sept. 14, the day after Aikman was injured against the Broncos, showed a clean break of his left clavicle. The second X-ray, made on Sept. 20, showed a slight improvement. It should take about 60 days for the bone to heal, but Aikman, who on Sunday missed his third game because of the injury, doesn't have that long to recuperate. He had targeted his return for the 28th day after the break, on Oct. 11, but on Monday he conceded that the bone hadn't healed sufficiently. Aikman will probably miss two more games, returning on Nov. 2 against the Eagles, still 11 days ahead of schedule.
"His shoulder pads will have extra padding that will cover his left side, but what we can't prevent is him landing on his left arm and rebreaking a bone that is not fully fused," Maurer said last week. "You can't rush nature."
You can, however, nudge it. Each day Aikman takes a calcium supplement. Also, for 20 minutes he holds a stapler-sized ultrasound bone stimulator on his shoulder; the device is designed to increase blood flow to the injured area and, in turn, accelerate the healing process.
Aikman's progress has been predictably unpredictable, because, as Maurer says, "Every body is different." Nine days after getting hurt, Aikman jogged and, for the first time since the Denver game, threw a football. He reported little pain. Three days later he took a snap from center. "About sent me through the roof," he says of the excruciating pain.
It is, of course, a bit of lunacy to play with a bone that isn't fully healed. "I do worry about my health long-term," Aikman says, "but I also know my obligation to the team. I chose to play this sport, and when I did, I knew a lot of pain and injury would come with it. And everyone looks down on the player who won't sacrifice his body. Every team has a few of those guys."
The bottom line, Aikman says, is that none of his teammates wants to hear how much his shoulder hurts. "Shut up and play," Aikman says dismissively, "that's how I've always felt about injuries. That's life in the NFL."