Continued from page 1

Smith won four rushing titles, matching Sanders, Dickerson and O.J. Simpson for the most during the Super Bowl era. And that’s not even the impressive part. Smith was the first rushing champion to win a Super Bowl the same season, and he did it three times.

He was the first NFL MVP from the Cowboys and is still the only one. He also won the Super Bowl MVP that season. That sweep has been done before and since, but he’s the only non-quarterback to do it.

At the risk of getting too stat-oriented, there are a few more that help put his career in perspective.

Smith gained at least 100 yards in 78 games. That’s nearly five full season’s worth. (He had seven more in the postseason.)

He had 11 seasons of at least 1,000 yards, one more than Walter Payton, Sanders or Curtis Martin, and they were all in a row. Smith also came within 63 yards the seasons before and after the streak. He was within 63 yards again in his last season, which brings up one last astounding feat: rushing for 5,789 yards after turning 30.

“He understood our blocking schemes and he knew what he could do and couldn’t do,” said Nate Newton, his longtime left guard.

When it comes to individual achievement plus team success, only Jerry Rice compares. Fittingly, he’s also being enshrined this weekend.

Just as Rice was fortunate to catch passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young in an offense designed by Bill Walsh, Smith was fortunate to play in an offense featuring a powerful line, a ramming fullback in Daryl Johnston and the Aikman-Irvin tandem that kept defenses from loading up against the run or made them pay when they did.

Smith, Aikman and Irvin were dubbed “The Triplets” by coach Barry Switzer. The name stuck, mainly because of how they embraced it. Each was a star in his own right, yet together they were even better, lifting the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls titles in four seasons (1992-95), while reaching “only” the NFC championship in their down year.

Smith’s induction reunites them as Hall of Famers, too; Aikman and Irvin will be in Canton, Ohio, for the ceremony.

Aikman didn’t throw as much as he might have wanted because he realized the team was better off running so much. Johnston literally sacrificed his neck for Smith, needing two surgeries to repair the damage done by all those helmet-first blocks to pry open holes.

Both were glad to have done it. When they retired, each tearfully said his biggest regret was not getting to be on the field when Smith broke the rushing record.

Johnston actually was there, as a broadcaster. He ended up too overcome by emotion to speak. Smith raised his arms in triumph and looked through the hole in the roof of Texas Stadium. It was later voted the greatest moment in the building’s history.

But the defining performance of Smith’s career was the 1993 season finale.

The defending champion Cowboys had started 0-2 while Smith fought for a new contract. After an irate Charles Haley plugged his helmet through a locker-room wall, Jones made Smith the highest-paid running back in NFL history. Dallas won nine of the next 11 games, with one of the losses the snowy Thanksgiving game against Miami when Leon Lett slid into a would-have-been dead ball, giving the Dolphins a second chance at a winning field goal.

Story Continues →