TROY AIKMAN is an anomaly. Not only was he one of a select group of NFL players to win three Super Bowls, Aikman made a seamless transition to the broadcast booth almost immediately after his playing days ended.
For the rest of the players looking to make the same move - none with as big a name as Aikman's - the NFL's competitive, 4-day Broadcast Boot Camp is a place to start.
Last week, 23 current or newly retired running backs, quarterbacks, kickers and linemen gathered at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., to practice in front of the best in the business. More than 100 players applied to the third annual Boot Camp. A confident camera demeanor and willingness to improve and work with local media set these players apart.
The Daily News was a fly on the wall during Day 2. Here is what we saw:
Former Green Bay Packers fullback William Henderson is still asleep. The players were given homework the night before and he says he was up late doing research. Last Monday - shortly after checking into the hotel - players were asked to spend the rest of the night combing through the Internet and newspapers to get caught up on current events around the league. There is a good chance Henderson made a late-night trip across the bridge for a cheesesteak. Soon, he asks about creating chemistry during the radio information session.
"You don't try to create chemistry," Westwood One Sports vice president Howard Deneroff tells him. "The more you do it, the more it happens. You can't force it. And you can't step on each other's toes."
Someone already mentions Brett Favre. It took only 11 minutes.
The players receive their first assignment of the day: interview each other in 3-minute segments live on Sirius NFL Radio later in the afternoon. The word "live" has a certain ring to it that these wannabe broadcasters aren't yet used to. "If you mess up, keep going," Deneroff says.
On the way to Show Prep, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew laments about losing his fantasy football league this past year. He probably didn't draft himself.
Fox NFL studio host Curt Menefee explains to the group that while the serious show preparation is done on Thursday or Friday of an NFL week, work starts at 5:30 a.m. on Sundays. Henderson would never make it. Menefee explains to the players that while opinions and statements aren't scripted, Show Prep is a time for players to formulate thoughts so they aren't completely winging it on air.
Brian Baldinger, a former Eagle and current Fox analyst, says that "you're not allowed to talk Show Prep without talking about Brett Favre."
"There is nothing easier than putting the tee in the ground and hitting Brett Favre," Baldinger says.
That is the 23rd time Brett Favre is mentioned in this session alone. Yikes.
Baldinger asks six-time Pro Bowler LaRoi Glover - who officially retired from the St. Louis Rams the day before boot camp - if he is a Brett Favre, and is actually retired.
The room explodes into laughter when current free-agent cornerback Terry Cousin explains that he "would love to have Favre come back. He threw me my first pick."
That's almost as funny as Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Gibran Hamdan's rainbow socks.
Moving over to Tape Study, most of the players feel at home in Ron Jaworski's NFL Films office. The players regularly spend hours breaking down film with their coaches.
"This is where I get my juices flowing," Jaworski says.
"I have always said that Ron has worked harder in this business than he did as a player," NFL Films producer Greg Cosell says. "You have to have that attitude. Players need to know more than their position and reach a point where they are consciously confident and it just flows."
Jaws says that players regularly learn something from his "NFL Matchup" show on ESPN with Merrill Hoge. "Trent Dilfer came up to me one time at a driving range and told me that he learned how to view the secondary differently because of the show," Jaworski says. "I was like, 'Wow, you should know this stuff, you're in the NFL!' "
Cosell tells the players that when Hoge first started at ESPN, he was "so nervous that he had no idea what anyone else on the set was saying. He just heard his name and spoke. Skill and comfort doesn't just happen."
Cosell, the nephew of famed broadcaster Howard Cosell, and Jaworski break down a few plays for the group to show the deep nature of film study on TV.
As we break for lunch, Jaworski tells the Daily News that he still likes the Eagles in the NFC East this season.
"Although I think the Eagles are a better football team . . . [the division is] my biggest concern," Jaworski says. "The Giants are a heck of a football team. You're going to have to contend with big Albert Haynesworth down in Washington. Dallas is still a very talented football team. I think the NFC East is a hell of a division.
"When you look at the overall talent, the Eagles are pretty damn good. I think the team that gets out of the NFC East is going to have the best shot to win the Super Bowl."
At lunch - over sandwiches and Gatorades - we catch up with Giants starting linebacker Danny Clark. Guess what? He thinks Jaworski is wrong. Clark says the Giants are taking the division.
"Giants No. 1," he says definitively. "I don't really care about the rest of them. The Eagles are clearly the team to beat, other than the Giants. But nothing is ever easy in the NFC East. I'm not a big fan of Philly. Those fans are brutal. When you're in the stadium or leaving the stadium, they're constantly booing. Our bus is either getting egged or people are mooning us. It's crazy.
"I can't say that guys are excited to play in a hostile crowd. Philly is a place I definitely need to mark on my calendar and get ready."
Clark has been longing to get to the Boot Camp. This year, he submitted an application and a full reel of tape to be considered for the competitive program.
"I tried to get in a year ago," he says. "I went to college for communications and I was a theater minor. I felt like I was a natural for something like this. It's very hard to get in - there were over 100-plus guys applying to be in here. We're learning from the best."
Colts linebacker Adam Seward had a tough time with the live Sirius NFL Radio test. He clearly felt uncomfortable questioning Oakland quarterback Andrew Walter. Sirius NFL host Ross Tucker, a Boot Camp product himself, scolded Seward on air for not asking the tough questions.
"It's a little tougher when you're interviewing an actual teammate and someone that you are friends with," Seward says. "When you're just answering questions, if you cut stuff short, they need to come up with other questions. I think they're under more pressure to find interesting questions to ask."
Welcome to our world, Adam.
"There were some more questions I could have asked but I didn't want to because Andrew is my friend," he says. "Sometimes the dirty things and the tough questions - the ones that excite your audience the most - I guess sometimes you need to ask those questions. You can't always play the safe side and take the easy road and expect people to tune in."
Hiring executives from Fox Sports, NBC Sports and Westwood One are on hand to offer perspective on the job market for broadcasters.
"There are 30 starting quarterbacks in the NFL," Fox Sports' Bill Brown says. "You all understand how hard it is to be one. There are only six Fox NFL analysts in the booth. It isn't easy. But if you're good, we will find you."
CBS studio host James Brown has a laugh at Clark's expense while taping a segment for the NFL Network. Brown reveals on air that Clark drives a convertible Smart car. Clark sometimes even carpools with a teammate to practice. He says it is "convenient" for living in New York.
Clark gives the studio taping a solid but not flawless run. Afterward, he hears from ESPN's Bud Morgan and Baldinger about his "lack of energy" and how his opinion was missing personal inflection. Baldinger wants Clark to explain how it is important for Favre to attend organized team activities with the Vikings for locker-room chemistry, and to offer his own experiences.
Clark is both satisfied and disappointed. While he did perform well, he knows there is work to be done. "If I'm not playing football, this is a job interview for me," he says. "This is creating a reel. This is priceless in terms of creating a reel and getting tape that we can use for jobs for years to come."
Clark didn't seem nervous - often the biggest hurdle - in front of the studio executives.
"It's added pressure that they're in the room; you understand that they're the best in their business," he says. "But I'm a big fan of pressure. At the end of the day, it either busts pipes or makes diamonds." *