Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
Troy Aikman has been retired for longer than he played, known to a new generation of NFL fans more for his work as a Fox analyst than for three long-ago Super Bowls that landed him in the Hall of Fame.
But that's OK. At 47, he has mastered his second career, feels more bonded than ever to his friend and partner, Joe Buck, and most importantly seems surprisingly healthy -- all things considered.
"I feel great," he said Tuesday during preparations for Super Bowl XLVIII. "I'm great."
He looked it, thanks to a disciplined workout regimen, particularly one designed by a trainer six years ago to help with the nagging back pain that had more to do with his retirement after the 2000 season than anything else.
Aikman knows, though, that when it comes to his health, there is no avoiding the topic of concussions. During the 1990s, he was perhaps the single most visible victim of head trauma in the NFL, suffering multiple concussions.
Since then there has been vastly more focus on the subject, including the fact that -- as Aikman long contended -- players at other positions are even more vulnerable than quarterbacks.
So, has he suffered any lingering effects? No. Not yet, at least, something for which he feels "really fortunate."
Still, just to be sure, last summer he underwent hours of testing at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas after becoming intrigued by the facility during a visit on other business.
"I was hearing what they do and I was really fascinated," he said. "They work with a lot of the Wounded Warriors that have had trauma in the field. So I asked the woman there, you know, I've never wanted to be tested but I think I want to come in and test this out."
Two weeks after the three-to-four-hour session, he returned to get the results -- positive ones, as it turned out.
"They were blown away," he said. "It was really peace of mind for me. I haven't had any issues. You hear about the different guys coming out, and it's a concern."
As with all former players, only time will tell whether Aikman's good fortune lasts into old age. Meanwhile, he is enjoying a TV gig that started as something of a lark and soon rose meteorically.
It began when he decided to combine a European vacation with working NFL Europe games beside Cowboys radio announcer Brad Sham, after which then-Fox Sports president Ed Goren called to offer him a job when he retired.
Sure enough, he joined Fox in 2001 as a replacement for Matt Millen, who left to run the Lions. One year after that, John Madden left for ABC and Aikman found himself alongside Buck in the No. 1 booth.
Twelve seasons later, here they still are. But Buck said the partnership continues to evolve.
"I've seen this spike over the last six weeks that I didn't see coming, and I don't know why," Buck said, noting that Aikman, regarded as a voice of reason dating to his playing career, is "having more fun" on the air lately.
"I've sent him more text messages after the last three or four games we've done than I ever have," Buck said. "It's been more fun the last four or five weeks than it's ever been."
Aikman agreed that their chemistry has been at a high point, helped by their close relationship off the air.
But there is far more to the job than that. Buck and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson, who coached Aikman for his first five NFL seasons, said the key to his TV success in part is his dedication to preparing.
"Troy is no different today than what he was as a player," Johnson said. "He was thoroughly prepared for everything -- at times maybe over-prepared . . . For a lot of people in this business, because of our background, you can probably cruise through a lot of these things, but Troy doesn't approach it that way."
Aikman said he guards against the temptation to overdo it when prepping for a Super Bowl.
"With the extra week, there's so much more information you get you can almost become paralyzed because there's so much you know," he said.
Buck is only 44, having reached the top of the play-by-play world at a very young age, so the partnership conceivably could go on like this for another 20 years.
How about that, Troy?
"I don't know where I'm at on that," he said. "I don't know if I want to be 65 or 67, still broadcasting games. But, why not? What else are you going to do?
"[Phil] Simms once said that when I was talking to him about whether or not to get into broadcasting when I was retiring," Aikman said. "He said, 'What else are you going to do?' And there's a good point in that."