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Pro Football | eXcess and O's / MIKE PENNER

He Has Carried On Long Enough

October 27, 2002|MIKE PENNER

It isn't much of a choice to begin with, and it isn't his alone to make, but it's the only choice Emmitt Smith has.

Does he do it in Dallas, or does he do it in Detroit?

Does Smith do whatever it takes -- 40 carries, 50 carries, direct snaps from center? -- to get the last 93 yards he needs to finally break Walter Payton's career rushing record today, at Texas Stadium, in front of the home crowd?

Or does Smith stick to the turtle's pace he has maintained since 2000 -- he's averaging 63.8 yards a game in his last 23 games -- and drag it out one week longer, taking the interminable circus on the road, to Detroit, one-time home of the man who should have broken Payton's record in 1999, Barry Sanders?

If he does it in Dallas: Smith will have done something -- gained as many as 93 yards in a single game -- that he hasn't done since last December.

If he does it in Detroit: Smith will have done something -- brought Sanders to a Lion game -- that hasn't been done since 1998. Or then again, maybe not.

If he does it in Dallas: The national NFL writers assigned to chronicle Smith's jog to history can finally get on with their lives.

If he does it in Detroit: The national NFL writers will have to waste one more week on an otherwise meaningless game in Michigan when they could have been covering San Francisco at Oakland or Tom Brady at Drew Bledsoe.

If he does it in Dallas: The Cowboys can at last get on with the future of the franchise -- i.e., giving the ball to Troy Hambrick.

If he does it in Detroit: Hambrick bides his time another week and the long-stalled Cowboy rebuilding program will have burned yet another half-season.

If he does it in Dallas: Smith will have taken advantage of a can't-miss opportunity -- four quarters against Seattle's league-worst rushing defense, which is yielding an average of 190 yards a game.

If he does it in Detroit: Smith will have to grind out the final few feet against a much tougher Lion defense, which is eighth in the league in fewest yards allowed per carry, devout cowards and all.

If he does it in Dallas: Pat Summerall will be on hand to record the moment for posterity, as well he should.

If he does it in Detroit: Some generic off-the-assembly-line voice will probably call the record-breaking run, which will remind everyone again of how badly Fox messed up when it drop-kicked Summerall out of its No. 1 football booth.

If he does it in Dallas: The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders will be forced to stretch their talents and try to do something they did not know was in their job description: cheer. It's always inspiring to see horizons expanded.

If he does it in Detroit: The Lions, if they can get the word out in time, might peddle enough tickets to almost sell out a home game.

If he does it in Dallas: The Dallas Morning News can ratchet down the Emmitt watch coverage, which would be the environmentally correct thing to do, as well as the journalistically correct thing, allowing its staff to refocus on the sport that matters in Dallas, pro basketball.

If he does it in Detroit: Smith will have to live with his conscience, knowing he was partly responsible for the Morning News' cold-blooded slaughter of another forest.

Do it today, Emmitt.

Get the ball, get it done, get the record, get it out of the way.

Save a tree.


He's Number ... 8?

Once he logs his 16,727th yard, Smith will rank first in NFL yards rushing, which is quite different from being ranked first among NFL running backs.

In a special-edition magazine commemorating the final leg of Smith's pursuit, the Sporting News ranks the top 50 running backs of all time. Smith barely cracks the top 10, placing eighth, just ahead of Eric Dickerson and Bronko Nagurski.

On the plus side, he is the top-ranked Cowboy running back, finishing five slots ahead of Tony Dorsett.

On the down side, he's only No. 2 in Texas, placing three notches behind the old Houston Oiler, Earl Campbell.

A top-seven certain to stir it up in saloons around the Metroplex:


Why? He's an NFL icon, he played during pro football's so-fancied "golden era," and he fulfilled the ever-popular sportswriter and fan fantasy by going out on top. Played only nine seasons, led the league in rushing in eight, averaged more than 100 yards a game. He's the NFL equivalent of Babe Ruth, so it's good he gets his here. He retired in 1965, meaning he won't stand a chance when MasterCard gets around to an NFL greatest-moments poll.


Why? He held the career rushing record for 15 years, the single-game record for 23 and gained most of his yards while playing for some very bad Chicago Bear teams. He also passed for eight touchdowns in 34 attempts. Yes, the Bears used to throw deep, once upon a time.


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