Emmitt is still the Man in Dallas

It was the major topic of articles written in all the Dallas and Ft. Worth sports sections. Writers filled column inches by professing it to be the case. Radio call-in shows discussed it at length daily, with the talking heads and golden throats predicting the time had come.

Emmitt Smith, the prolific running back of the Dallas Cowboys had lost a step. The wear and tear of years with the team as the main plow horse had taken its toll. He was nearing the end and was only a sad commentary of his once glorious talent.

Emmitt, in his usual soft spoken and stoic manner took these barbs with the aplomb and grace of a man that truly knows. He faced the cameras and microphones and answered questions from the media about his career winding to an end with dignity. His stance was always. "there's more to come. It ain't over yet."

The year was 1990 and Emmitt Smith was chosen as the first round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys. Jimmy Johnson said his intentions were to draft Terrell Buckley, but Green Bay beat him to it. Yet when Jimmy saw Emmitt falling in the draft he made phone calls in his usual draft day frenzy to moved up two picks to select Mr. Smith. He couldn't believe his good fortune.

That first season Emmitt held out stating he was worth more than the Cowboys were offering. His stubbornness cost him with his new head coach. Jimmy sat Emmitt during the beginning of the season, for the most part to show that he was in charge. This would cost Emmitt his first 1000-yard season as a rookie. He fell just yards short. An issue that would prevent Emmitt from setting the consecutive string of 1000-yard season in 2001.

In the end, Emmitt was correct about his value. What Cowboy fan can forget the play-off game in early January of 1993 at the Meadowlands. Emmitt suffered a slight separated shoulder in the third quarter. The offense had been struggling all day against a tough Giants defense. A drive was needed late in the fourth to get Eddie Murray within field goal range and take the victory.

Journalists had questioned in recent weeks just how tough Emmitt was. Was this small, slow running back from Florida the type of player to lay it all on the line, they mused in newsprint and over the airwaves. This mid winter day all questions would be answered by Emmitt and end any discussion about his grit.

Jimmy Johnson asked Emmitt to carry the load of the team that drive. Forgoing the pass, they used a ground game that the Giants could not stop and rammed the ball down their throats.

After every play Smith would pick himself up off the turf. His injured arm dangling from his side, he would hustle back to the huddle.

There is a watershed moment when all legends begin. The lore about truly great players has an inception on brisk afternoons or in the chilly days of winter. Montana had "The Catch." Elway had "The Drive." Staubach had the " Hail Mary." And Emmitt Smith will forever be remembered in that moment when he gutted out the pain of injury and took the Cowboys on his back and propelled them toward the NFC Championship game.

So it came as a shock when the media so quickly turned on the running back. They professed noticing him duck out of bounds on plays. Taking the easy way out and not gaining the tough yards.

Doubt swirled around him during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. There was no way a man his size could take the punishment and maintain the production. Names like Earl Campbell were mentioned as players whose careers were shortened by a heavy workload. Everyone seemed to know something that Emmitt did not.

In 1999 the Cowboys had perhaps the healthiest offensive line since the early 90's. The return of Stepnoski gave Dallas a front group of men that would move mountains for Emmitt and the team.

But the most shocking improvement on the team in the eyes of the press was the renaissance of number 22. Whispers of his step being lighter and his ability to shed blockers again stifled the catcalls from a cynical media.

Emmitt recorded his best year since 1995 by posting 1397 yards in 1999. Again in 2000 and 2001 he broke the 1000-yard barrier and gave the Cowboys a running game from a man that is ancient in NFL years.

Emmitt's career has arrived in the year 2002. He has less than 600 yards to break the all time rushing record of Walter Payton. At 33 years old he will become the most prolific running back ever in the NFL.

We will never fully appreciate Emmitt until his playing days are over. The records he has set and the one waiting for him in 2002 won't fully be treasured by the fans until after #22 no longer roams the Dallas backfield.

In the movie "To Kill A Mockingbird, the lead character, Addicus Finch, leaves the courtroom after his failed attempt to defend an innocent man. The gallery rises as he leaves. A man says to a child sitting at his knee, "Get up boy, there's a man passing."

We are that gallery watching a quiet young man walk in our midst. Someone that would finish his degree after making millions on the playing field because he told his mother he would. A role model of courage and leadership. A player that sacrificed for his team and his fans in ways we will never truly understand.

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