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Class Action

Dallas' Smith, one of league's most respected men, is poised to break NFL rushing record

October 27, 2002|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — Imagine the luck. Isaiah Kacyvenski, a Harvard-educated linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and a self-styled pro football historian, is getting a chance to guest-star on his favorite TV show.

ESPN Classic, here he comes.

Kacyvenski and the rest of the Seahawk defense, which ranks last against the run, are all that stand between Dallas running back Emmitt Smith and the NFL's all-time rushing mark. Smith needs 93 yards to break Walter Payton's 15-year-old record, and wants to do so in Dallas today, before the Cowboys hit the road for games at Detroit and Indianapolis.

"I love football, I love knowing everything about it," Kacyvenski said. "But I don't give a ... about that record. I just want to come out of there with a win. But obviously, I don't want him getting it on us."

The Seahawks might not have much say in the matter. Today, they are the Washington Generals to the Dallas Globetrotters. Assuming that Smith will break the record, the Cowboys have planned an on-field ceremony 30 minutes after the game. Before that, when Smith surpasses Payton's career mark of 16,726 yards, officials will stop the game and Smith's wife and family will greet him on the field.

"In the ideal situation, in the ideal world, you want everything to happen in front of your home crowd and the fans so they can all enjoy the exciting moment," Smith said. "When I look at it and the great opportunity it is for me, obviously I would like to have it right here in Texas Stadium."

For Seahawk defensive tackle Chad Eaton, it's hard not to get caught up in the moment. Eaton jokes he might keep a pen in his sock -- remember, Seattle's defense also was victimized by that indignity -- so he can be the first to get Smith's autograph.

"It's Emmitt freakin' Smith," Eaton said. "I might actually bring a Dallas helmet and have him sign it for me. Might want to have that in the trophy room."

Eaton, a former New England Patriot who has faced Smith three times in six seasons, enjoys playing against him because "he's just so interesting to tackle."

"After a play that goes for no gain, he'll say stuff like, 'Why are they calling this play?' and shake his head," he said. "One time, he looked up at the coordinator and was like, 'You're killing me down here. Just killing me.'

"I love playing him, I guess, because I have so much respect for him. How are you going to intimidate Emmitt Smith? All you can say is, 'Hey, man, I used to watch you when I was a little kid.' "

That's not to say the Seahawks are ready to roll over. They are 1-5, and, although the playoffs are all but out of reach, they're playing for Coach Mike Holmgren's job. It's his worst start in 11 seasons as an NFL head coach. In a loss to St. Louis last Sunday, the Seahawks gave up 183 yards and three rushing touchdowns to Marshall Faulk. On the Monday night before, 49er receiver Terrell Owens autographed the ball he'd just caught for a touchdown while walking through the end zone, embarrassing Seattle's defense -- and, some say, himself -- in a nationally televised celebration.

"We're all ticked off," Kacyvenski said of the last two games. "All that stuff has done is fuel the fire. All the talking needs to stop. We just need to stop somebody."

Holmgren coached Smith in the Pro Bowl after the 1990 season and, when he was coaching the Green Bay Packers, frequently drew up schemes to try to stop him.

"To me, a guy like Emmitt Smith is what the league is all about," Holmgren said. "He's a class act. This is quite an accomplishment. When it happens, it's really something."

This could be Smith's last season as a Cowboy. Next season, he will be a 34-year-old back who counts $10 million against the salary cap. He's coming off his least productive season -- 1,021 yards -- since his rookie year, and he needed 331 yards in the final three games to get there. His three touchdowns last season were the fewest of his career.

Meanwhile, his understudy started to creep into the spotlight. Troy Hambrick rushed for 579 yards at an average of 5.1 yards a pop, third-best in the league among running backs with 100 carries or more, and established himself as the team's back of the future.

Smith has inched toward immortality this season, rushing for a season-high 82 yards in 22 carries in a 9-6 overtime loss at Arizona last Sunday. So reaching the record today will mean a season-best effort, but that's more likely considering the Cowboys are starting rookie quarterback Chad Hutchinson, a former pro baseball player who hasn't taken a snap in a game in five years. Establishing a running game will be especially important.

But Smith says he has no plans to ask Coach Dave Campo or offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet for extra carries.

"Trust me, these individuals know what's going down," Smith said. "They know what's happening. They are going to do, first and foremost, what's important to help this team win the game, then they are going to do whatever they can within their power to do what they need to help."

And, if Smith gets the record, the Seahawks will be there for posterity on ESPN Classic.

Kacyvenski's solution?

"I'd probably change the channel."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

This Road Leads to the Hall

Emmitt Smith's 13-year NFL career, all with the Dallas Cowboys:

*--* YEAR G GS ATT YDS AVG L TDS 1990 16 15 241 937 3.9 48t 11 1991 16 16 365 1,563 4.3 75t 12 1992 16 16 373 1,713 4.6 68t 18 1993 14 13 283 1,486 5.3 62t 9 1994 15 15 368 1,484 4.0 46 21 1995 16 16 377 1,773 4.7 60t 25 1996 15 15 327 1,204 3.7 42 12 1997 16 16 261 1,074 4.1 44 4 1998 16 16 319 1,332 4.2 32 13 1999 15 15 329 1,397 4.2 63t 11 2000 16 16 294 1,203 4.1 52 9 2001 14 14 261 1,021 3.9 44 3 2002 7 7 107 447 4.2 30t 1 TOTAL 192 190 3,905 16,634 4.3 75t 149

*--*

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