Emmitt Should be in Dallas

If Jerry Jones had his way, Emmitt Smith would have retired following last season and never worn another uniform other than the Cowboys' blue and silver. To him that's how the career of the most celebrated player in franchise history should have ended.

But the Cowboys owner knows that was not realistic, especially considering Smith's desires to continue playing and the Cowboys' need to move in another direction under new coach Bill Parcells.

Still, it's an increasingly emotional Jones who is heading into Sunday's matchup with the Cardinals and the much-anticipated return of the league's all-time leading rusher.

"It's already started for me," Jones said. "It seems a little strange actually. I feel a little awkwardness knowing for them to win the game Emmitt is going to have to make a big contribution and knowing our job is to see that he doesn't. It's strange. He will always be a Dallas Cowboy. All of that makes a different feeling for me."

Jones reiterated that he has no ill feeling regarding Smith's "trashy" comments about his final season in Dallas because of the positive equity the legendary running back built up in 13 seasons with the Cowboys that included three Super Bowl titles. He said he hopes and believes the sellout crowd at Texas Stadium will greet Smith warmly on Sunday.

But Jones' fuzzy feelings for Smith are countered by the optimism and renewed hope that the team he left behind is beginning to foster.

The Cowboys (2-1), who have won back to back road games for the first time since 2000, head into Sunday's game looking for their first three game winning streak since the beginning of the 1999 season.

"Personally, it would have fit nicely if Emmitt would have finished his career with the Cowboys and never worn another uniform," Jones said. "But that's the fan in me. It didn't happen that way. As it turns out, I really feel when I look at how our team has played, it has worked out well for both sides."

Well at least for the Cowboys so far anyway. Smith ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 193 yards for the still lowly Cardinals (1-3). He is 47 yards behind former understudy Troy Hambrick, who has rushed for 240 yards in one less game for a Cowboys offense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL.

While thoroughly encouraged, Jones is refusing to get too caught up in his team's fast start.

"We got a long road ahead of us," said Jones, who is admittedly prone to hyperbole and rampant enthusiasm. "We all know that. From the personal standpoint, I am not getting up on the table and talking about the Super Bowl and how we are going to be in the playoffs. But the improvement we are making is obvious. When you look at the fundamentals of the team, we are getting better."

Jones said there is no doubt that the Cowboys arrow is pointed upward after three straight 5-11 campaigns. He gives Parcells much of the credit for their early success, saying he is better than imagined as a coach and a teacher. He said the impact Parcells had in the locker room and on the field is much more encouraging than the Cowboys being over .500 for the first time since 1999.

"I am not caught up in the .500 thing because we have won only two games," Jones said. "It's like batting .1000 when you've had only one at bat. I am not into much of that. I am into these players getting confident. Bill and his staff have asked this player to buy into his coaching style and I am glad to see him doing it with victories. This gives them a chance to see that by doing it, you can have some success."

Jones said the improved play of players like Hambrick, quarterback Quincy Carter, defensive tackles Willie Blade and Daleroy Stewart and left tackle Flozell Adams has keyed the Cowboys fast start and is the direct result of the work Parcells and his staff has put in since the offseason.

However, he said questions remain with those players and others as far as being able to play well consistently. To him that is the key for a Cowboys team whose ultimate goal is to not only be competitive but also become Super Bowl champions again.

"There are a lot of question marks on individual players as well as well as the team in general," Jones said. "We really don't have those answers as to what this thing will look like from week to week. My job is to be the optimist and to point to the positives. But that doesn't seem necessary. We are pleased with the progress we have had right now. But we are not content. We don't think we have a pat hand and will accomplish every thing we want to."

SERIES HISTORY: 82nd meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 52-28-1. The Cardinals won last year in Arizona, 9-6. The Cowboys won the last meeting at Texas Stadium, 17-3 in 2001. The Cowboys have defeated the Cardinals in 26 of 31 games played at Texas Stadium.

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