- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - The story is true. As a rookie, Emmitt Smith really did tell Michael Irvin that he was going to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

But let the record also show that Smith was setting a goal, not making a prediction.

“The conversation started with Michael asking me, `What did I want to do in this league?’” Smith recalled.

Smith always liked a good challenge.

Told he was too small and too slow all the way back in high school, all he did was set national records. Then he went to the University of Florida _ as a backup. His first start came on the road against a ranked Alabama team and all he did was set the school’s single-game rushing record.

His lack of size and speed was supposed to catch up to him in the NFL, or at least keep him from dominating. That’s why 16 players were chosen before him in the 1990 draft. When the Dallas Cowboys took him, they weren’t sure he was the perfect complement to Troy Aikman and Irvin; they just hoped so because the defensive guy they really wanted already was taken.

The 5-foot-9 1/2 Smith indeed was the perfect fit. And his desire, drive and durability turned him into the most productive running back in NFL history.

On Saturday night, Smith will do the only things left in his career: slip on the gold blazer and unveil the bust signifying his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His speech is already written and it’s big on thank yous to the people who’ve meant the most in his life and his career. As much as others helped shape him, Smith takes great pride in having made the most of his abilities and his circumstances.

“I was motivated by one thing and one thing only: winning games,” Smith said. “I wanted to win. And I wanted to win very bad.”

Calling Smith the most productive running back is not the same as calling him the greatest. He certainly belongs in that conversation, too.

But think about the difference between those distinctions. Would you rather have a dazzler or a producer?

Although he didn’t bulldoze like Earl Campbell, blaze like Eric Dickerson or leave defenders grasping air like Barry Sanders, Smith churned out the most career yards rushing (18,355) and most touchdowns rushing (164).

Yes, he also had the most carries (4,409), but longevity is a badge of honor in the NFL, especially for a guy defenses spent all week plotting to crunch the 20 to 25 times per game he had the ball. Smith made it through 15 seasons (13 in Dallas, two in Arizona), plus another 17 postseason games. He missed only a few games because of injury during his prime years.

“I don’t remember a practice that he ever missed because of flu or sickness,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will present Smith for induction.

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