NFL news of September 20, 2002

When Emmitt Smith finally passes Walter Payton on the NFL’s all-time rushing list this season, every back who has ever taken a handoff in the NFL will stand up and applaud. The loudest ovation will come from his fellow Floridians.

“Our state should have the rushing record,” said fellow Pro Bowler Edgerrin James, a Miami native. “We’re the state that plays football year-round.”

But James also has a word of advice for Emmitt as he closes on Payton’s mark of 16,726 yards.

“After you break the record, don’t make it so high for people like myself,” James said. “I wouldn’t mind chasing Emmitt – but every game he plays adds years on your career. The longer he plays, the harder it’s going to be for the rest of us.”

Say Smith rushes for 1,000 yards in 2002 as he did a year ago, pushing the record to 17,187, then retired. To catch him, a running back would have to average 1,323 yards for 13 seasons. Welcome to Mount Everest.

To catch Emmitt, a back must leave school early to add another year to the front-end of his career. Smith left school early. To catch Emmitt, a back must enjoy early success in his career. Emmitt won his first rushing title in his second season, at age 22.

So rule out a Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk, his closest challengers. Bettis ranks 12th all-time with 10,952 yards, and Faulk ranks 16th at 9,548 yards.

…But one running back does loom off in the distance.

James left school early and won his first NFL rushing title for the Indianapolis Colts in his rookie season at the age of 21. He won his second rushing title at 22. Through two seasons, James had more rushing yards (3,262) than Emmitt in his first two years (2,500).

…If Smith listens, he can hear the soft footsteps of James from afar. They could become louder and louder as years pass.

— Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News “Young colt could scale Mount Emmitt.”

Edgerrin James retired after the 2009 season with 12,246 yards—more than 6,000 yards short of Smith’s record and also short of Bettis’s and Faulk’s totals.

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