Smith Proved Them All Wrong

A supposedly too small and too slow Emmitt Smith came to the Cowboys in 1990 with something to prove. His glorious 13-year career, which included three Super Bowl titles, league and Super Bowl MVP awards, the NFL all-time rushing crown and the distinction of being the greatest player in team history, brought him full circle last Thursday.

The Cowboys, looking to create salary cap room and move in a new direction, announced the release of the 33-year old running back at an emotional news conference at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters.

"It is with great emotion that I announce that Emmitt Smith will not be a part of the 2003 Dallas Cowboys football team," owner Jerry Jones said. "As an organization we have got to start thinking about life without Emmitt at running back."

True to Smith, he departs the Cowboys still looking to prove his naysayers wrong.

Despite coming off the second worst season of his NFL career -- rushing for 975 yards in 2002 -- Smith has no plans of retiring.

He says he is in great health and firmly believes he can be a productive running back in the NFL.

"I have not thought about retiring," Smith said. "That's not on my mind. I still have love and passion for the game. I still think I can contribute. In my mind, I think I'm a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that."

Arizona, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Carolina are possible destinations for Smith, who will likely have to accept a backup job.

He won't be able to prove it in Dallas partly because the team ushered in a new era following their third straight 5-11 season in 2003 with the hiring of Bill Parcells as head coach.

According to sources, Parcells preferred to move forward and rebuild the Cowboys without the league's all-time leading rusher. Troy Hambrick, who backed up Smith the past three years, will get an opportunity to be a starter in 2003. However, the Cowboys will also explore their options at running back in free agency and the draft.

Since being hired in January, Parcells has had little to say about Smith.

In a statement released by the Cowboys Thursday, Parcells said "Emmitt Smith is someone that I have great respect for -- as a player, a competitor, and as a person. It is a decision that addresses the future for all of the parties involved, and I believe that Jerry and Emmitt have handled the entire process in a class manner."

Classy is certainly the best way to describe Smith's career on and off the field since he was the 17th overall selection out of Florida in 1990.

It's also the best way to describe his departure, which, considering his stature, could have easily been filled with acrimony.

Despite not being afforded an opportunity to have a "meaningful conversation" with Parcells about his future with the team -- his only conversation with the team's new coach was "in passing" -- Smith harbors no ill feelings.

"My resume' speaks for itself," Smith said. "I don't have to go around and say `Parcells look at me'. But he said all along he was going to leave it to me and Jerry. That's what he has done. I respect his decision."

Smith actually made his departure easy on the Cowboys because he essentially released himself.

During a meeting at Jones' house last week, Smith allowed that it was in the best interest of the organization if he moved on.

"When we first sat down to talk we went over a variety of potential options," Jones said. "One included him returning to the Cowboys. Emmitt's response was characteristic of the unselfish attitude he has displayed the last 13 years. He said I want to do what is best for the Cowboys. He said I view my career as a partnership that will last beyond my playing career. When you are a partner, you do what's best for the entire organization."

Financially speaking, Smith knew his $9.8 million hit on the salary cap for 2003 was not good for the Cowboys, who saved $4.9 million with the move. He also knew that coming back in a lesser role at a diminished salary was also not going to be a workable situation.

"(Smith) said it's in the best interest of the Cowboys that the money be used to address the future at running back or some other position rather than me," Jones said. "He said we both agree it's in the best interest of the Cowboys to reach its ultimate destination without me. That's the direction that serves the best interest of the Cowboys, my family and me."

Said Smith: "I had to say to myself, do I want to hinder the improvement of the ball club? If I was to remain here, it would have been a lot of speculation on what Bill would do with me. I didn't want to put the team through that. I didn't want to put myself through that. It's better for me not to be here. It's a clean slate now. There is no room for no more excuses for this club. Troy Hambrick and that team have one direction. That direction should be straight ahead. And they should take full advantage of it."

Smith plans to take full advantage of the opportunity to be a free agent for the first time and see what's out there for him and his family.
He said Dallas, which will be his permanent home, remains dear to him because "I grew up here and became a man here."

The departures of most of his teammates from the Cowboys Super Bowl title teams in 1992, 1993 and 1995, including quarterback Troy Aikman in 2001 and receiver Michael Irvin in 2000 helped prepare him for this day. Only safety Darren Woodson remains from the three title teams.

"You can always learn from someone else's situation," Smith said. "Watching them go through what they went through helped me for this moment."

Aikman, who was cut by Jones for financial and health reasons, said, "It had to be frustrating for him. I know it was. But he had a great career with the Cowboys. The Cowboys family will miss him."

For Jones, Thursday represented the ending of an era that he is still not quite comfortable with.

"This not a happy day for me," Jones said. "This is not a red-letter day for the Cowboys. I am apprehensive. I never thought I would be involved in a game without Emmitt being here. This burns the bridges and there is no looking back. We got to get it done without Emmitt Smith."

A surprisingly upbeat Smith said he is at peace with his own departure because the Cowboys gave him a chance to reach a childhood goal, while reiterating that his dream of playing football is not over.

"You expect me to be all shook up and everything," Smith asked? "I have been playing football since I was eight. Over that time I have missed six games. That's a lot of being consistent. That's a lot of being durable. That's a lot of things people said I never had. I am proud of that. This is a win-win situation. The Cowboys win and I think I win. I am very pleased for the opportunity Jerry gave me. Sixteen other teams forgot about me. They know about me today.

"I know when I wake up in the morning I will not be a Cowboy," Smith continued. "But I am still a football player. I feel fortunate to walk way saying job well done."

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