- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

He is not the fastest running back in the NFL. He is not the biggest. He is not the most bruising.
None of that ever fazed the relentless Emmitt Smith.
"All of my life I've been touted to be too slow, not big enough and I was counted out many times," Smith said.
Smith has been grinding out yards for the Dallas Cowboys the past 13 seasons the way water carves out a canyon over centuries. If Smith's numbers speak for themselves, they make an irrefutable case for his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Smith surpassed the late Walter Payton in late October to become the leading rusher in NFL history. He enters Sunday's season finale against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field perhaps his last as a Dallas Cowboy with 17,149 yards. Smith also ranks second to Oakland Raiders receiver Jerry Rice all time in touchdowns scored and first in rushing touchdowns.
He did it his own way. Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers made defenders miss. Jim Brown and Earl Campbell ran over them. Smith, 33, simply outlasted them. He has missed only four of 217 games with the Cowboys. He has carried the ball a staggering 4,034 times. Only Payton comes within even 1,000 carries of Smith.
"The thing that really stands out in my mind is how durable Emmitt has been," Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "As a running back, you take a pounding, and Emmitt has been pretty healthy over his career. He's also a pretty patient runner. What he has been able to do is really wear down defenses late in the game even though he's not a real big guy."
Of course, Smith has been hurt. He just plays through those aches and pains.
Smith demonstrated his toughness in the Cowboys' season finale against the New York Giants in 1993, when his team needed a victory to clinch the NFC East, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Smith played more than half of the game with a separated right shoulder, but he refused to come out. He carried 32 times and caught 10 passes for a total of 229 yards, leading the Cowboys to a 16-13 victory in overtime. Smith's remarkable performance prompted former Raiders coach John Madden to make the only congratulatory visit to a locker room of his lengthy broadcasting career.
"Emmitt is a warrior," Brown said. "He has the heart of a champion. You have great runners who are not very smart, but Emmitt is smart. Some of them are not very tough, but they have great skills. Emmitt is tough, and he never gives up."
Smith is persevering again, this time among the ruins of the Cowboys' 5-10 season a franchise-record third straight season in which the team has suffered 10 or more losses.
Smith still performs at a high level. He needs just 38 yards on Sunday to reach a record 12th consecutive 1,000-yard season. He averaged 4.1 yards a carry this season just two-tenths off his career average despite the absence of Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen for most of the season and despite getting the ball less than 14 times in seven games. He has scored five touchdowns, one behind team leader Joey Galloway.
"Heart separates the great ones from the good ones because when everything is not perfect and conditions are not in your favor, you still go with that same intensity," Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis said. "It's easy when things are not right to have an excuse. But when you stand tall in the face of adversity and you keep fighting and don't let things get to you, it's not your ability, it's your heart. Your heart will keep you going."
The question isn't whether the Smith can keep going. It's where he will be doing his running next season.
Smith's salary cap number for next season is an astronomical $9.8million, making it likely the team will be forced to cut him. However, the Cowboys will take a $5million cap hit if they cut him before June 1.
Smith has chafed publicly over his relative lack of carries (236 compared to more than 350 each for the Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams and the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson) this year under coach Dave Campo and offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet. But it's almost certain a new coaching staff will be in command come January.
Bill Parcells, a devotee of the run and the veteran player, already has interviewed for the Cowboys' coaching job. Parcells, who won a Super Bowl with footspeed-deficient 33-year-old O.J. Anderson as his main weapon at running back, has said he believes Smith still can be a feature back. Smith certainly has no plans to retire.
"The record doesn't feel like the finish line, although some people would like it to be," Smith said. "[I want] an opportunity to move forward and take this [rushing record] as far as I can. My love for the game doesn't end with the record. You play to win, not just to make records. My love for my teammates is still left.
"I take pride in being here. I want to help these guys win a championship so I can see the joy in their eyes when they get their first rings and they can see the joy in my eyes when I get another one."
Through the years, the Cowboys are 99-26 when Smith has at least 20 carries (2-2 this season) and 30-77 when he doesn't (3-8 this season). Seems he's still a difference-maker.
"It would be hard to say 'cut him' if he's doing his job and doing it effectively," Smith said, using the third person. "It's all about performance."
Smith probably isn't the greatest back ever, but no one has performed as well for so long.
And Smith always performs well against the Redskins. So if Sunday's game is his swan song as a Cowboy, it figures to be a sweet one. The Cowboys, who have won 10 straight in the series, are 17-6 against the Redskins with Smith in the lineup.
Smith rushed for 144 yards in the Cowboys' 27-20 victory over the Redskins on Thanksgiving, his highest total since he ran for 150 in a 32-13 triumph over Washington nearly two years earlier. That game began his streak of four straight 100-yard games against Washington.
Smith's 12 career 100-yard games against the Redskins are tied for his most against one opponent. He needs just 40 yards on Sunday for a career-high 2,467 against one team and one touchdown, his 25th against Washington, to tie that mark.
"Emmitt just has a knack of going forward and breaking arm tackles," said Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, who would have coached Smith during his senior season at Florida had Smith not left school a year early for the NFL. "You've got to wrap him up to get him down. He gets the most the line blocks for him. If they block him a 2-yard run, he might make 4. If they block him a 5-yard run, he'll get 7 or 8.
"That's what the real great backs do."

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