Thursday, February 03, 2005

Last of the Vaqueros

When I was kid, I was a Cowboys fan. Those were the days of Roger Staubach and Bob Lilly and Drew Pearson, whom we'd impersonate at halftime when we went outside to re-enact our version of that Sunday's blowout of some hapless opponent. As I grew older, I drifted away from the 'Pokes as a favorite, mostly because I tend to root for the underdog in nearly all things.

So the Cowboys of Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin weren't so popular with me. Oh, I rooted for them, but as with most dynasties I wasn't rabid about it.

With much respect I note the retirement today of Emmitt Smith, and in this article I am reminded why I admired him, much more so than his teammates named above:

But despite his impressive statistics, he won just two major awards in 15 seasons -- NFL MVP in 1993 and the Super Bowl MVP that same season, when he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys' 30-13 win over Buffalo in Atlanta.

He won those despite missing the first two games of that season in a contract dispute with Jones. Smith finished that regular season with perhaps his greatest game, an overtime win over the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.

The Cowboys and Giants were both 11-4. The winner got the NFC East title, home-field advantage in the playoffs and a first-round bye. The loser got a wild-card game the following week.

Smith separated his shoulder in the third quarter but returned to the game, which went into overtime tied at 13. He carried the ball on nine of the Cowboys' 11 plays in the extra period at one point raising his aching shoulder to stiff-arm Lawrence Taylor on his final run, which set up Eddie Murray's game-winning field goal.

He finished with 229 total yards and a touchdown on 32 carries and 10 receptions, the heaviest workload in team history, then spent the night in a hospital.

Had the Cowboys lost that game, Smith probably wouldn't have been able to play the following week in a wild-card game. That would have made the road much more difficult in what turned out to be the Cowboys' second of three Super Bowl victories in four seasons.

Few men set a better example on the field or off as the kind of player anyone, friend or foe, could admire. If Emmitt Smith's post-NFL career is as successful as his playing days, then he should go into the Human Being Hall of Fame as well.

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