The Record

He stepped off the plane ride to Dallas in a chocolate brown shorts set with cream-colored spots and a pair of black loafers. He was wide-eyed but had a self-assurance and was not overwhelmed by the media or the coach and GM/Owner that drafted him.

Emmitt Smith arrived in town looking more casual than an eventual Hall-of-Famer has ever looked in the past for the Dallas Cowboys.

His first season was shortened by a holdout and finding himself in the doghouse of Jimmy, he sat and watched others play. Yet he wasn't affected by what others thought or said, including the disciplinarian Jimmy Johnson. Emmitt talked the talk because he somehow knew he could walk the walk.

Twelve years later we are watching the sun set on a marvelous career. Emmitt has thrilled the crowds for over a decade as he watched all his Super Bowl teammates retire, save for Darren Woodson. There is nothing on the football field he hasn't accomplished.

Four rushing titles, a league MVP, and a Super Bowl MVP are only milestones to the greatest feat seen since Walter Payton set the all-time rushing record. And that record will fall this season.

With 16,423 yards, Emmitt is only 304 yards away from destiny and the magic number of 16,727 and The Record. The game will be stopped for celebration and one day Dallas will hold a parade for the man from Florida that brought so much to the team, the city, and the game. And that is the way it should be.

But is a funny word for an article about the greatest Cowboy running back and perhaps the greatest Cowboy ever. But implies a dark truth that denies the feelings we have for the man that literally single-handedly beat a Giants team for the NFC East Championship years ago.

Yet truth, like the cold fingers of our own mortality grabs us by our hearts and begs us to examine the current starting line-up for the team and an aging star.

Emmitt's longest play from scrimmage occurred in the Rams game. He scampered for 30 yards and took Dallas from under its own goalpost while backing the Rams toward theirs. He's added two solid 22-yarders and one 19-yard run in the others games this year. But not much else. He has a paltry 236 yards of rushing in four games. Ninety-three on four carries.

Emmitt is a great man and worthy teammate. The other players on the team look up to him as a leader. Yet how much does this change the way the players see the team and management?

George Teague wasn't offered an opportunity to return because he would have cost the team 1 million dollars this season. Apparently the brain trust didn't figure his contribution was worth that amount of compensation.

Now the thinking fan could make the argument the team knew they had a shot at Roy Williams and could afford to pass on a competent player and cult hero that protected the Star from the ravages of Terrell Owens. And that would have been an accurate position, considering.

Yet Williams wasn't a sure thing, as no draft day player is. He could have been taken by any of the teams in front of Dallas. Or he could just not have been capable of making the leap to the pros. In both cases the team played the right card.

But for the production of a running back that is averaging only 59 yards a game, can the team afford the 8+ million dollars in salary Emmitt commands?

And what do the other players truly think when they see a 33-year old running back struggle for yardage when his potential replacement posts 6.7 yards per carry on the same day? How must the offensive line feel when they are placed in the precarious position of learning a new system and finding almost no success from the starter and plenty of success from the backup?

Sunday in the third quarter the Cowboys came to the line of scrimmage in the I formation. The right tackle blocked down on the end and the entire Rams line moved left. A gaping hole opened and Quincy handed the ball to Emmitt, who followed Robert Thomas to the right. Emmitt was staring at open field and a healthy gain when the team needed it to jump-start the offense in the second half.

Dre` Bly, the cornerback for the Rams, came charging in. The Emmitt of old would have given him a juke and been off to the races. Yet what the Emmitt of now did was hesitate and then give a weak shimmy that fooled no one in The Edward Jones Dome. Bly took him to the turf and the play lost yardage.

The marketing of The Record will make millions for Jerry Jones and the franchise. Emmitt will also make millions off the chase and eventual passing of Payton. More souvenirs will be sold. More jerseys will be purchased. The record crowds that will attend the games, per chance to see history made in Dallas, will consume soft drinks, hot dogs, nachos, and beer. Jerry should bank millions. And he should make money for himself. He spends it freely enough to chase the silver chalice known as the Lombardi Trophy.

But what of the coaches that are required to play an aging veteran that perhaps can't quite make the cut anymore? How will their performance as middle management of the team be judged when they can't put their best foot forward on Sunday?

Football is a team sport. To be successful takes eleven men working together in tandem. Pulling together and operating like a well-oiled engine. One misfire by one cylinder and the entire engine could implode.

At this point there are other issues with the team that make Emmitt's performance less dramatic. Offensive line woes and injuries have crippled what was at first thought to be the strongest part of the team. Journeyman quarterbacks and receivers with less experience than the NFL norm seem more pressing than an aging star.

But star power should be afforded to those players that produce at the star level. And every player, regardless of his history with the team, should be evaluated by his production and ability to help win games.

Emmitt should get his record by the 9th game of the year. At that time a serious discussion will take place as to what the coaching staff wishes to accomplish for the rest of the season.

If the play-offs are within reach, should the team play a quicker Troy Hambrick and make a run? The fans will find this a mixed blessing. On the one hand the team will turn it's back on the only player that offers up the memories of the good years every time he touches the ball. Yet if no move is made, they will see an elder warrior with diminishing skills that could possibly prevent them from realizing a goal that has been so elusive over the past four years. The play-offs.

Emmitt will join us on some distant fall day when he is inducted into the Ring-of-Honor. There will be a day when his likeness will reside amongst the greats of yesteryear in Canton. His name will always be spoken with respect and pride. He will truly be a Cowboy for life.

But for the 2002 season and beyond, one has to ask the tough questions. Which is more important? A players personal goals or the team's seasonal goal of winning. These are truly hard and sometimes callous queries.

But perhaps the toughest of all questions is, ‘What price, The Record?'

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