Emmitt Smith left his mark on the football program at the University of Florida. While some of his records still stand, it took others four years to do what Emmitt did in only 3. Just imagine if he would have stayed that 4th year. It was not meant to be. Emmitt was ready to take the NFL by storm!
The Final Piece Was Found at Number 17
In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys figured they had an All-Pro wide receiver in Michael Irvin and an All-Pro quarterback to get him the ball, Troy Aikman. The next question was: who was he going to hand the ball off to? During the 1990 draft, head coach Jimmy Johnson was eying Baylor University Linebacker, James Francis. He was highly upset when the Cincinnati Bengals snatched him off the board. Jimmy still tried to work a deal with the Bengals but they would not bite on an agreement. Oh thank heavens for small favors. Thank you Cincinnati!
The Dallas Cowboys had the number 17 pick thanks to Hershel Walker and the Minnesota Vikings. Emmitt Smiths’ draft stock dropped because a lot of teams thought he was too small and too slow for the pro game, despite all the awards he received in college. All Jimmy Johnson saw was a scoring machine and a hard runner. Emmitt Smith rushed for over 100 yards in 25 of his 34 games at Florida and 70 of 83 while attending Escambia High School. Jimmy called up the Pittsburgh Steelers to trade up from the 21st pick to the 17th pick. The rest, as they say, is history: with the 17th pick of the 1990 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Emmitt Smith, Running Back, from the University of Florida.
The Race to Canton Has Begun
After drafting Emmitt Smith, the Dallas Cowboys added another weapon to their offense, Jay Novacek. Troy Aikman now had all the pieces he needed to make the Dallas Cowboys offense go. Emmitt Smith’sÂ season got off to a very slow start. In his first 4 games, Emmitt only had 104 yards on 37 carries and 2 touchdowns. He only had three 100 yards rushing games. Emmitt battled his way to end the season just short of 1000 yards, 937 yards on 241 carries with 11 touchdowns. He received the Offensive Rookie of the year award and earned his first of eight trips to the NFL Pro Bowl (1990-95, 1998-99).
In addition, Jimmy Johnson won Coach of the Year. It seemed things were coming together in Dallas as the Cowboys transformed their 1-15 team into a 7-9 team and just missed the play-offs. Things were looking up for the Dallas Cowboys and their workhorse, Emmitt Smith.
The 1991 season started off with a bang for Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys. During the 1991 draft, they had improved their defense and gave Troy Aikman another weapon in Alvin Harper. The Dallas Cowboys went to work by defeating the Cleveland Browns on the road behind Emmitt Smith’s 112 yards on 32 carries. In the first three games of the season, Emmitt Smith rushed for 268 yards on 56 carries (only one touchdown and fumble). They lost 2 straight, including a 24-0 beating at home by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Everyone was talking about how the Dallas Cowboys were still behind the other contenders in the NFC East division. Emmitt Smith responded by coming out against the Cardinals. He put the Dallas Cowboys on his back and rushed for 182 yards on 23 carries, for two touchdowns (one for 60 yards).
Emmitt Smith and The Cowboys rode the momentum of the win to run off 4 straight, including a 21-16 win over then defending Superbowl Champion New York Giants. Coming out of their week 8 bye,Â a battle between two of the game’s premier running backs, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, was set. A lot of fans thought this would be a clinic on how to run the football. They were sadly mistaken. Barry Sanders only rushed for 55 yards on 21 carries. Emmitt did have more yards, 66 yards on 16 carries, in the 34-10 whipping due to many Dallas Cowboys turnovers.
The Cowboys were 1-3 out of the bye week including a big win against the Cardinals behind Emmitt’s 3 rushing touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys were 6-5 entering the home stretch of the season heading into a rivalry game with the Washington Redskins. These last five games of the season would show the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys Nation, that Emmitt Smith was the heart of the Cowboys team.
It started at RFK Stadium against the Washington Redskins. Emmitt powered the Dallas Cowboys to a 24-21 thriller with 132 yards on 34 attempts and a touchdown. He rushed for over 100 yards in 4 of the last 5 games; 109 yards on 32 carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 112 yards on 27 carries against the New Orleans Saints, and 160 yards on 32 carries against the Atlanta Falcons. The only game in this stretch Emmitt Smith did not rush for over 100 yards was against the Philadelphia Eagles (75 yards on 25 carries). Finishing the season 11-5, Emmitt Smith dethroned Barry Sanders as the NFL rushing leader by finishing the season with 1,563 yards on 365 carries and 12 touchdowns.
He continued to carry his Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs. Running for 105 yards and a touchdown on 26 carried in a big win against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. This was the Dallas Cowboys first playoff appearance since 1985 (a 20-0 loss to the L.A. Rams) and first playoff win since 1982 (37-26 against the Green Bay Packers). This set up Sanders/Smith II as the Detroit Lions were hosting the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional playoffs. Emmitt out gained Barry again, 80 yards on 15 carries, but Barry walked away with the victory 38-6.
The Dynasty Begins
The bad taste to the end of the 1991 season stayed with Emmitt Smith during the off-season. The Dallas Cowboys came into training camp more focused than ever to build on their steady rise over the last 2 years. EmmittÃ‚Â Smith’s determinationÃ‚Â was contagious. The Dallas Cowboys came out of the gate 3-0 behind Emmitt Smith’s 341 yards and three touchdowns on 76 carries. They took a rest in week 4 and fizzled out in a heart breaking loss to the Eagles 31-7. Not wanting a repeat of what happened the previous season following the bye week, Emmitt Smith got back to work and drove his Dallas Cowboys to a 5 game winning streak including a satisfying win against the Detroit Lions in the Pontiac Silver Dome, 37-3. During that winning streak, Emmitt Smith rushed for 555 yards on 124 carries with 9 touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys were 10-2 heading into their December schedule. Emmitt was on cruise control. Dallas finished the season 13-3 with a first round bye in the playoffs.
Emmitt Smith captured his 2nd NFL Rushing Title by completing the season with 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns on 373 carries. He kept the steamroller moving forward by ripping through the playoffs. He ran for 114 yards and a touchdown in each playoff game (114 yards on 25 carries against the Eagles and 114 yards on 24 carries against the San Francisco 49ers). It was only fitting that the Dallas Cowboys and Emmitt Smith earned their trip to the Super Bowl by beating the 49ers in the NFC Championship.
The Dallas Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1978, a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin put on a show against the Buffalo Bills defense. Emmitt Smith did an awesome job of helping the Cowboys control the clock and putting the game way out of reach by grinding down the Bills defense for 108 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the 52-17 victory. This made Emmitt Smith the first NFL Rushing Champion to ever win a Super Bowl.
The talk before the 1993 football season should have been who will stop the Dallas Cowboys from repeating as champions. Instead the talk was about Emmitt Smith and his contract holdout. Emmitt felt his $465,000 base salary was unbecoming a two-time Rushing Champion. The Cowboys put in rookie Derick Kassic in his place. In two games he only managed 127 yards on 35 carries for 2 losses. One loss was an embarrassing one to the Washington Redskins on national television in the season-opener. After a loss to the Buffalo Bills, a team they just slaughtered in the Superbowl, Charley Haley snapped in the locker room! He slammed his helmet into the wall yelling
“We’re never gonna win with this f***ing rookie!”
He threw his helmet in Jerry Jones’ direction and demanded he sign Emmitt Smith. Four days later, Jerry Jones made Emmitt Smith the highest paid running back in the NFL. Emmitt had to work off the rust in a win over the Cardinals carrying the ball 8 times for 45 yards. The Dallas Cowboys took the bye week to regroup. Then it was on. Emmitt Smith proved again how he was the key ingredient that made this Cowboys offense work. With Emmitt Smith in the backfield, they completed the rest of the season with an 11-2 streak! Not only did they avenge the season opening loss to the Redskins by whipping them 38-3, they swept the rest of the NFC East. Emmitt set a career high for yards in a game, 237 yards on 30 carries.
In the season finale, Emmitt Smith suffered a 2nd degree shoulder separation against the New York Giants. Emmitt remembers they took two knee pads and stuck them together. They placed it over his injured shoulder thinking it would absorb some of the hits.Â Emmitt tried to talk himself out of the pain after every hit he took. Most of the time with tears in his eyes. Emmit knew his team could not win without him on that field. He braved the pain and willed the Dallas Cowboys to a 16-13 overtime win! The announcer stated during the game:
“Everyone will remember the day that Emmitt Smith carried the ball 32 times for 168 yards and caught 10 passes for 61 yards, with one arm!”
Along the way, Emmitt Smith captured another rushing title, even though he missed the first two games of the season. He finished with 1,486 yards and nine touchdowns on 283 carries. Emmitt was also named the NFL MVP by the Associated Press (AP) and many other sports writers organizations. They took advantage of the first round playoff bye to rest Emmitt. Luckily the Cowboys had home field advantage through-out the playoffs. They got through the Green Bay Packers and held on to beat the San Francisco 49ers. The stage was set for the rematch against the Buffalo Bills in Superbowl XXVIII. Emmitt Smith had a field day, rushing for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries in the Cowboys 30-13 win . Emmitt Smith is the only running back in NFL history to win the rushing title, the NFL MVP, the Superbowl, and the Superbowl MVP all in the same season.
A lot of changes occurred during the 1994 off-season for the Dallas Cowboys. Jimmy Johnson resigned and Barry Switzer was announced the New Head Coach. It also marked the arrival of Ernie Zampese, the new offensive coordinator, as Norv Turner was on his way to become the new head coach of the Washington Redskins. The only thing to slow Emmitt Smith down during this season was a nagging hamstring injury. Regardless of injuries to himself and other key players, Emmitt still managed to lead the Dallas Cowboys to an 11-5 record behind his 1,484 yards rushing with 21 touchdowns on 368 carries.
The Cowboys didn’t play Emmitt in the last game of the season so he could have three weeks to rest his hamstring. In the first quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers, Emmitt Smith aggravated his hamstring. With the anticipated showdown against the 49ers, everyone was up in arms about the health of Emmitt. Troy Aikman mentioned he did not want to answer questions about winning with an 80% Emmitt Smith. “I don’know. But we’re going to find out Sunday.” The game against the 49ers proved once again how valuable Emmitt Smith is to the Cowboys offense. He did manage to rush for 74 yards, but in a losing effort as the Dallas Cowboys fell to the San Francisco 49ers, 38-28. The quest to become the first team to three-peat as NFL Champions, ended in Candlestick Park.
The Dallas Cowboys and Emmitt Smith were on a mission in the 1995 season. Following their first 8 games, the Cowboys were 7-1. The only loss was against the Redskins when Troy Aikman was hurt early in the game. Emmitt’s stats were excellent. He had 189 carries for 979 yards and 14 touchdowns, 4 of them were in the season opener against the New York Giants. In the first half of the season, Emmitt Smith only failed to reach 100 yards in two games. The second half of the season was a bit bumpy for the Cowboys. A sinking San Francisco 49ers team came into Texas Stadium and shocked the Dallas Cowboys by handing them their second loss of the season, 38-20. Emmitt and the Cowboys rebounded and won the next two games, only to hit a 2 game skid. They lost against the division rival Washington Redskins 24-17,Â and the Philadelphia Eagles 20-17, which gave them a rare sweep that year .
The Eagles loss was the hardest due to the famous fourth and one play with the game tied. The Dallas Cowboys had the ball on their own 29 yard line. Barry Switzer said go for it. Needless to say, the Dallas Cowboys did not get the first down and turned the ball over on downs. The Philadelphia Eagles went on to kick the game winning field goal. The fans and media had a field day critiquing the decision to go for it that deep in their own territory. Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys used the negativity as motivation and won their last 2 games and secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Emmitt Smith finished the season the rushing champion once again, with 1,773 yards on 377 carries. In addition, Emmitt Smith was the first running back in NFL history to record five consecutive 1,400 plus yard seasons. He set a single season record for rushing touchdowns with 25. That record was later broken by LaDainian Tomlinson when he was with the San Diego Chargers. Behind Emmitt Smiths’ 99 yards on 21 carries and 40 yards on three receptions, the Dallas Cowboys dominated the Eagles in the divisional playoff game.
The Cowboys were motivated to redeem the previous years loss to the 49ers. The Green bay Packers had other plans. They marched into Texas Stadium after beating the defending champions in Candlestick Park. It was a hard-fought battle. Emmitt pounded the Packers defense for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns on 35 carries in the 38-27 win. Then it was time for vindication! Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin led the Dallas Cowboys into Superbowl XXX against the Pittsburg Steelers.
The love/hate relationship between these two teams is almost as bad as theCowboys/Redskins rivalry. The Steelers were undefeated in the Superbowl, including 2 wins against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had the game well in hand. However, a strong finish by the Steelers in the closing minutes of the second quarter gave them the momentum in the second half. When the Pittsburgh Steelers were driving down field, the score was 20-17.Â Larry Brown intercepted Neil O’Donnell for the second time in the game. Emmitt Smith sealed the game on a 4 yard touchdown run. One of the Steelers defensive linemen yelled during the closing minutes of the game:
“Hey, what happened to that so-called great Cowboys running game?”
They held Emmitt Smith to only 49 yards on 18 carries, but he had 2 touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys linemen responded only by saying:
“Look at the scoreboard!”
This would be the final visit to the Superbowl for Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys.The 1996 season did not start to well for Emmitt Smith. In the season-opener against the Chicago Bears, Emmitt sustained an injury late in the game that left him temporarily paralyzed. Although not career threatening, it would affect his play throughout the season. The Dallas Cowboys found themselves 2-3 heading into their bye week. Emmitt Smith only had one 100 yard game during that stretch.Â Following the bye week and the return of Michael Irvin from a five game suspension, the Cowboys seemed to return to form. They went on to win 8 of their last 11 games and capture the NFC East title. Emmitt Smith played in 10 of the last 11, but you could tell he was still suffering the after effects of the game one injury. He still did enough to record 1,204 yards on 327 carries with 12 touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys faced the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wildcard game. It seemed the 2 week rest for Emmitt Smith paid off as he whooped the Vikings defense for 116 yards on 17 carries and 2 touchdowns in their 40 to 15 win. This will mark the Dallas Cowboys last playoff victory until 2009. They lost to the Carolina Panthers 26-17 the very next week.
Still Pushing Ahead
Marred by injuries, off-field problems, and a loss of control, the 1997 season was just as difficult for EmmittÃ‚Â Smith and the Dallas Cowboys. Everyone saw the lack of discipline for the first time at Valley Ranch. At the midway point of the season, the Cowboys stood at 4-4. Emmitt Smith only managed two 100 yard games during the span. The second half of the season was even worse. Emmitt Smith seemed to be losing a step or two. He did not break 100 yards in any of the last 8 games. The Cowboys would lose six of their last 8, losing the last 5 in a row. There were rumors of disagreements and infighting between Barry Switzer and star quarterback Troy Aikman. Michael Irvin promised the Dallas Cowboys fans things were going to change in a tearful interview after their last regular season game, a tough loss to the New York Giants, 20-7 at Texas Stadium. Emmitt Smith, being the hard runner he was, still managed to break 1,000 yards (1,074) on 261 carries. His four touchdowns were the lowest in his NFL career. Barry Switzer blamed himself for the Dallas Cowboys rapid decline and resigned.
Jerry Jones brought in Chan Gailey to revitalize the Dallas Cowboys offense. Emmitt Smith was out to prove he had not lost a step and was still able to carry the load. Emmitt came out on fire gaining 124 yards on 29 carries in the 1997 season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. Then he started cooling off; he only gained 173 combined yards in the next three games.
The Dallas Cowboys went as Emmitt Smith went during the first half off the season. Emmitt only managed four 100 yard games; by mid-season, the Cowboys stood at 5-3. The odd thing was, they matched the same record in the second half of the season to finish 10-6. (Emmitt Smith only had three games in which he rushed for over 100 yards). The Dallas Cowboys captured a playoff berth by doing something no other NFC East team had ever done: they swept the entire NFC East division. In doing so, the won their 6th division title of the 90s. Even with the ups and downs, Emmitt Smith bettered the previous year totals by rushing for 1,332 yards and 13 touchdowns on 319 carries. The Dallas Cowboys were heavy favorites heading into the NFC Wildcard game against the Arizona Cardinals, especially since they were playing at Texas Stadium. The Cardinals had a very different idea; they shocked the Cowboys, beating them 20-7 ending their season.
Marked as the ‘beginning of the end’ of the dominating Dallas Cowboys Dynasty of the 90s, the loss of Darryl Johnston prior to the start of the 1999 season was a huge blow to Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys running game. They did acquire Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to help Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman in the passing game.
Everything started off like a typical Dallas Cowboys season. They were 3-0 behind Emmitt Smiths’ hard running in a stretch where he gained 295 combined yards and scored 3 touchdowns. Then the roller coaster ride began. Throughout the rest of the season the Dallas Cowboys could not put together a two game winning streak. Emmitt Smith missed the Green Bay Packers game; it was the first game that all three triplets did not play in a game together since Emmitt entered the league in 1990. The Dallas Cowboys still won 37-13. The Cowboys made the playoffs again despite their 8-8 record. Emmitt Smith finished the season with 1,397 yards and 11 touchdowns on 329 attempts in 15 games. The Dallas Cowboys entered the playoffs on a good note by beating the Giants 26-18 behind Emmitt’s 122 yards on the ground.
The Minnesota Vikings brought that to a crashing halt. Emmitt did his part by pounding the ball for 99 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. In the end, the Cowboys went down 27-10. This would be Emmitt’s last playoff game of his NFL career. This would also be his last visit to the NFL Pro Bowl. Although he got the Cowboys into the playoffs twice, Chan Gailey would be dismissed as the Dallas Cowboys head coach.
Over the next 3 seasons, Emmitt Smith would be the only constant in Dallas. I take that back. Emmitt was one of two constants over the next three seasons. The other would be the consecutive 5-11 records under the helm of new appointed head coach Dave Campo. Emmitt would rush for over 1000 yards in 2 of his last 3 seasons in Dallas (1,203 yards and 9 touchdowns on 294 carries in 2000; 1,021 yards and 3 touchdowns on 261 carries in 2001; 975 yards and 5 touchdowns on 254 carries in 2002). 2002 would be the first season since Emmitt Smith’s rookie season he failed to reach 1000 yards rushing. The only bright spot would be on October 27th, late in the game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Dallas Cowboys started their drive on their own 27 yard line.
“I was totally aware of how much I needed. When I saw I was 13 yards away, I KNEW this would be the drive that I was going to do it”
On the first play Emmitt pushedÂ his way for a gain of 3 yards. Quarterback Chad Hutchinson called the huddle and looked into the eyes of Emmitt:15 Lead on two. The Cowboys came to the line. The crowd started to go crazy. Everyone in Texas Stadium knew this was it! Chad takes the snap with the clock reading 9:10 left in the game and hands it off to Emmitt Smith. Emmitt goes off left tackle like he has done plenty of times. This time it was a run towards greatness. He shook off one tackle and received a great block from his fullback. Emmitt placed his right hand down on the Texas Stadium turf to keep his balance as he powered through a shoe-string tackle attempt. 11 yards later, after he was finally brought down, the fireworks exploded, the crowd erupted, and cameras everywhere started flashing.
Emmitt Smith was the NFL’s all time leading rusher!
They stopped the game for a few so Emmitt Smith could share this moment with members of the Payton family, his own family, current and former teammates including the other triplets. The most important person he made sure he thanked over and over, was Darryl “Moose”Â Johnston. Emmitt Smith would cap off this joyous game by scoring his 150th touchdown and finishing the night with 109 yards on 24 carries. It would be his season highs in those categories. It would also mark his last season in a Dallas Cowboys uniform.
Every Dallas Cowboys Fans Nightmare
At the end of the 2002 season, Jerry Jones decided he wanted to get younger and take the team in a new direction. That direction did not include the last of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty, Emmitt Smith. Emmitt, released by the Cowboys, felt he still had something left in the tank and signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think I’m a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that.”
As Jerry Jones said,
“In my mind, I’ll always see the star on Emmitt’s helmet”
It was strange to watch the number 22 wearing something other than a STAR on his helmet.Â Emmitt’s first year in Arizona came to a crashing end when he was injured in his return game to Texas Stadium. He suffered a broken left shoulder-blade. He returned to action with 5 games left in the season, but he saw very limited playing time. Emmitt Smith returned to the starting lineup for the 2004 season. He rushed for 937 yards on 267 carries and 9 touchdowns, despite the Cardinals finishing the season with a 6-10 record.
Left It All On The Field
A few days before Superbowl XXXIX, Emmitt Smith announced he was retiring from the game that he has loved since he was an infant. The Cardinals released Emmitt, and then he signed a one day contract with the Dallas Cowboys for a single dollar. Finally back home where he belonged, Emmitt Smith immediately retired as a Dallas Cowboy. He retired as a member of the team he helped rise from the ashes and dominate the entire decade of the 90s. He retired from a team he dreamed of playing for as he watched them on television with his father.
“It’s been a tremendous ride. My 15 years, my 15 minutes of fame, is up.”
Not quite yet Mr. Smith. Emmitt Smith left his mark on the state of Florida both on the high school and college level. It was only inevitable he would do the same when he finished playing in the NFL. Emmitt retired in first or second place on a few lists in the NFL record books:
- All-Time Leading Rusher: 18,355 yards
- All-time Leader In Rushing Attempts: 4,409
- Career Rushing Touchdowns: 164
- Career 100-Yard Rushing Games: 78
- Most Games In A Season With A Touchdown: 15
- Rushing Yards: 1,586
- Rushing Touchdowns: 19
- Consecutive Games With A Rushing Touchdown: 9
- 100 yard Rushing Games: 7
- Total Touchdowns: 21 (Tied with Thurman Thomas)
There are plenty of other records Emmitt Smith holds that I could mention. Click here to see the entire list of NFL Rushing Records. His 175 total touchdowns are only second to Jerry Rice (208). Emmitt is only the 4th player in NFL history to have over 21,000 combined yards from scrimmage (21,564). In addition, he is only one of five players to have over 10,000 career-rushing yards and have 400 career receptions. Emmitt and Jerry Rice are the only non-kickers to score over 1,000 points in a career in the NFL. Click here to view the team records he holds with the Dallas Cowboys.
Emmitt Smith left his legacy in the NFL. He blazed a trail that very few will be able to follow. His road from Pensacola to Canton is almost over. He can see the finish line. His tearful announcement made it clear how much he loved the game. It showed how much he loved his teammates. It also showed how much he loved the Dallas Cowboys. As he was finishing his speech, Emmitt reached out to one of the helmets sitting on the table. With tears in his eyes as he touched it, he said:
“You don’t know how much this Star really means to me,”
No Emmitt! You just don’t know what you really meant to your fans, your teammates, and the Star!