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Troy Aikman’s Got Something Brewing

The Hall of Fame QB speaks with Boardroom about how he got started in television and his new beer venture, EIGHT Brewing Co.

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman is every bit as he was when he was winning Super Bowls as the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. But despite his overflowingly full dance card as both a media personality and entrepreneur, Aikman still writes thank-you notes.

And that may just be the single best piece of advice he offered to the next generation on the latestepisode of “A Conversation With…”

Boardroom caught up with the iconic Cowboy and six-time Pro Bowler in Los Angeles ahead of Super Bowl LVI to hear more about his evolution as an entrepreneur with EIGHT Brewing Co., his life as a TV commentator, and how authenticity will always trump all.

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Check out the highlights from Boardroom’s interview with Troy Aikman:

Aikman the Beer Entrepreneur

I’ve been involved loosely in the beer business going back to college. I worked at a distributorship, but was introduced to my now-partners through a mutual friend.

There are over 8,000 breweries across America, and we jumped into the most competitive segment of the beer business, that being the light beer category, so we know that we’re an underdog . We’re going up against some real heavyweights, some titans in the industry — and that’s okay. I think that if I was worried about not being successful, I never would have been the Cowboys’ quarterback.

EIGHT was born after two years of a lot of hard work. A lot of trial and error. I feel that we came up with something that was really special and unique to that category.

I’ve been involved in every aspect of the business from day one. As far as our messaging and who we’re targeting, me and my partners sat down and talked about my philosophy on life and what I think of success and — and whatever success I’ve been able to achieve, how that, how that was maintained. That really is what formulated our strategy and what our marketing campaign was going to look like. Our messaging is all the things that resonate with me. It’s really what our company is built on. And I’ll mention [that] we don’t hire anybody unless I interview them.

The best feeling in sports was after a win, meeting up with my teammates after the game at some local watering hole, or on the flight home having a couple beers, celebrating a, a big victory after three and a half hours of a lot of blood and a lot of sweat put out there on the field. That’s when the beer tastes the best.

We went through a lot of iterations of names and EIGHT was one of them, but we weren’t quite sold because we didn’t want it to just be a play on my athletic career and my time with the Cowboys. So we reached out to some people, Kenny Dichter being one of ’em, who started Wheels Up and Avión tequila and has been very successful. He immediately said, ‘there’s just one name you can call this beer.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘It’s eight, it’s gotta be eight.’ And then others said the same thing.

Currently, we are exclusive to Texas, but our hope is that down the road, we’re having conversations about maybe moving beyond the borders of Texas. Those will be really fun conversations to have. And it more importantly will tell us that, hey, there’s a demand outside of Texas and people are as excited about this product as we hope they would be.

I got into the car business when I was a player, got out probably [after] seven or eight years. Did well in that business, liked the business, got back into it when I retired, and had more dealerships for a period of time. I’ve been involved as an investor, been involved as a spokesman. My role model, if you will, has been Roger Staubach in that here was a guy with a Hall of Fame career. And while he was playing, he built this real estate business that went on when he retired to become one of the best in the country. He has since sold it, but I always admired him for that — to do something beyond football.

Troy on TV

It was in 1998, I was finishing up my 10th year in football and they had NFL Europe going on at the time. One of my teammates had gone over and done some games, and I had been asked a couple of years there in a row by FOX if I wanted to go over and broadcast games. I just didn’t have an interest in broadcasting. [It] wasn’t something that I thought that I would enjoy, didn’t think that it was something that I would necessarily be effective doing.

But then, the play-by-play guy for the Cowboys, Brad Sham, was talking about maybe wanting to go over and call some games for NFL Europe. I said, ‘Hey, you know, they’ve been asking me for the last couple years. Maybe if I let them know that I’ll go, but you need to be my play-by-play guy, that I’ll go. You can do some games, I’ll do ’em with you, and I’ll get a couple weeks vacation, and you’re out of the deal, you know?’ That’s how it came about.

We went over and he and I called the game and I thoroughly enjoyed it — just really enjoyed it. I know doing it with him and having this relationship with him helped, and when the game ended, I got a call from [FOX executive] Ed Goren, and he said, ‘Hey, whenever you retire from football, we’ve got a job for you if you want to broadcast games.’ It was the first time that I started thinking, yeah, maybe this is something that I might be interested in doing.

“I think that if I was worried about not being successful, I never would have been the Cowboys’ quarterback.”

So I played for two more years, and when I was retiring, Matt Millen was leaving to become the general manager of the Detroit Lions and FOX offered me the No. 2 booth. I did it and I really thought, well, I’ll do this for a couple years until I really figure out exactly what I want to do with myself. And here I am now, 21 years later, and every year I’ve enjoyed it more and more, and it’s been a great second career.

It’s afforded me a lot of time [for] raising a family. I was a single father with two young girls and they’re now off in college. The flexibility of the job, getting to call a sport that you love and you know something about, traveling around, having relationships with the current coaches and players just makes the whole experience more enjoyable watching the games — even when I’m not calling the games.

It’s just been, it’s been fantastic. I think I got the greatest job in the world.

I worked with Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston my first year in 2001. And then John Madden called me after the season and said — it hadn’t been announced yet — ‘I’m going to Monday Night [Football].’ And I thought, wow, okay, I didn’t think he’d ever leave. FOX had no thoughts on what impact that might have on my career, but then all of a sudden I got a call and they were going to pair myself and Cris Collinsworth with Joe Buck. I said, ‘Okay, great.’ Moved into the No. 1 booth in my second year. [We] worked with Cris in a three-man booth for three years, and then he left and went to NBC. Joe and I have been in a two-man booth ever since.

I think what people hear when they listen to our games is they hear two great friends in the booth talking about the game, because that’s what we are. You can put any two people together in a broadcast booth, but you can’t create friendships and you can’t create chemistry, and Joe and I are really great friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together, even when we’re not working. We travel together in the offseason. We’ve gone through a lot of life experiences together. I cherish my friendship with him, and as a partner in the broadcast booth, I couldn’t ask for anyone better.

His Best Advice for Young Football Players

No shortcuts, no excuses. That’s my motto for life. In a world where we always try to make things easier and a little bit simpler, I just don’t think you can replace hard work and effort. And so whether it’s an athlete, whether it is in broadcasting, a different kind of work with not as much physical exertion, you have to put in the time. And I think if you don’t, you get exposed. The same with the beer business — we’ve worked really hard.

What I tell young players in the league — and this could be college, it could be the NFL, it could even be high school — you get an opportunity to meet a lot of people. A lot of influential people that others just simply wouldn’t have entrée into. I tell them to take advantage of that; not in an insincere way, but to be authentic. And if you meet somebody and you’ve had a good exchange with them and a good conversation and they give you their business card, take the time to write ’em a note and tell ’em thank you, thank you for the time, meant a lot, I felt like a learned a lot. Whatever the exchange was, just let them know that you appreciate them taking an interest in what you’re doing.

I was not given that advice, but I’ve learned over the years that you meet a lot of people, and then it’s interesting how small a world it is. Then, all of a sudden, you cross paths with somebody and you’re in a field that had nothing to do with what you were once involved in. That experience with that person goes a long way in helping or hurting you.

There’s people that are in positions to help open doors, help further careers and all of that, so that’s my advice to young athletes that want to be entrepreneurs or want to get into the business world when they’re done playing: Be kind and just follow up with a simple note and just say thank you. I think that goes a long way.

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