Troy Aikman says UCLA proved it belonged in Final Four: 'I couldn't be prouder'

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Sam Farmer
·2 min read
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UCLA guard Jaylen Clark, right, fights for a rebound with Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, during the first half of a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
UCLA guard Jaylen Clark, right, fights Gonzaga forward Drew Timme for a rebound during their Final Four matchup Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Among the more visible UCLA fans on social media was Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, the former No. 1 overall draft pick whose No. 8 jersey was retired by the Bruins.

“I couldn't be prouder of them,” Aikman said by phone Sunday of the basketball team. “I speak for all UCLA fans in that way.

“I communicated during the tournament with Coach [Mick] Cronin, and I like his whole approach. I just love what he's done with the program in just his second season. He's gotten UCLA obviously back to prominence, which is where we rightfully deserve to be. It's been a long time since we've been able to really rally behind our football or basketball programs. This was really exciting."

Aikman said he was particularly impressed by the toughness and tenacity of UCLA players, who had to win a First Four game just to secure a spot in the bracket.

“They weren't given much of a chance,” he said. “They had to play to get in, and they just kept playing. It was fun to watch, because as they continued to play, they just gained more and more confidence. As [CBS announcer] Jim Nantz and the other guys were talking about, they felt that they belonged. They did belong, and they proved that.”

In response to some of Aikman’s Twitter and Instagram posts, some people reminded him that a loss is a loss and there are no participation trophies.

“I understand that mentality,” he said. “But for anybody who thinks that, if the assertion is that you can't be proud in moments of defeat, I disagree with that.

“One of my proudest moments ever was when we [Dallas Cowboys] lost in the NFC Championship game. I think you learn a lot about players and people and all that, when you have your backs against the wall. These guys, I just admired the way they went about it and competed at the highest level against what is a really great basketball team.”

The Bruins were heavy underdogs against Gonzaga, and few people gave them a chance to really compete down the stretch, let alone win.

“We see it every year in all sports,” Aikman said. “It's a great example of why sports is what it is, in that you still have to go play the game. It's not played on paper. You can never measure or factor in heart.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.