NFL news of October 21, 2002

Friends, Texans and football fans, lend me your stat sheets. I come not to bury Emmitt Smith, but to praise him.

The Dallas Cowboys running back is only 93 yards short of breaking one of the NFL’s most hallowed records: Walter Payton‘s career rushing mark of 16,726 yards.

In 13 seasons with Dallas, Smith has been a pro’s pro. He has played hurt, missing only seven games, he has starred in big games (MVP of the 1994 Super Bowl) and he has been durable, averaging more than 315 carries per season. He holds the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 25 and in a career with 149.

But before Smith adds the final line to his Canton-ready resume, there’s one thing that needs to stop: The elevation of Smith to the absolute summit of NFL running backs by some observers. There has been talk that Smith ranks only below Jim Brown among runners, higher than Barry Sanders, higher than O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson, and higher even than Payton.

This is nonsense.

For all his success, Smith was very much the product of a powerful offensive system. The Cowboys of the 1990s also featured future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, a terrific tight end in Jay Novacek and one of the most dominant offensive lines in NFL history.

The only other rushers among the NFL’s all-time leaders to play with so many weapons early in their careers were Pittsburgh’s Franco Harris and Dallas’ Tony Dorsett.

— Richard Rothschild, Chicago Tribune “Putting Emmitt Smith’s run for the record in perspective.”

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