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16,743: Emmitt top of the heap

Emotions flow after Dallas' Smith breaks Walter Payton's rushing record.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2002


Emotions flow after Dallas' Smith breaks Walter Payton's rushing record.

IRVING, Texas -- Walking into Texas Stadium for the first time as a rookie 12 years ago, Emmitt Smith said he gazed reverently at the names displayed on the Cowboys' famed Ring of Honor. He vowed to one day have his name there with the likes of Roger Staubach, Mel Renfro and Bob Lilly.

That's a no-brainer, especially after Smith finally did what everyone expected he would, passing Walter Payton on Sunday to became the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

It was an ideal situation. Smith, needing 93 yards to get the record, rushed for a season-high 109 in front of a home crowd of 63,854, many of whom stuck around for an elaborate postgame ceremony in Smith's honor.

Acknowledging Smith's dream of being in the Ring of Honor, reserved for retired players, the team unfurled a banner from the rafters heralding Smith's record-setting day. He fought back tears but lost the battle.

The only damper for Smith was that the Cowboys lost 17-14 to the Seahawks (2-5) on a field goal by Rian Lindell with 25 seconds left, made possible by a pass interference penalty on third and 6 from the Dallas 44. Not that anyone cared except the most die-hard Cowboys fans.

"To do it at home was very, very important because this is where it all began," said Smith, a former Florida star who also scored from 1 yard, increasing his league record for rushing touchdowns to 150. "Making history of this magnitude is such a special thing. ... I couldn't pick a better day to give our fans this opportunity to witness what they witnessed today because you have 64,000 people up there that will go on for the rest of their lives and never forget this moment, including myself."

Smith, 33, got the record in typical Smith fashion. Conservative and humble since he became a star at Pensacola Escambia High, Smith got the ball on a simple play called 15 Lead, a straight-ahead run left. Needing 10 yards to pass Payton's mark of 16,726, he barreled across the line of scrimmage before being tripped, but lunged forward for an 11-yard gain to the Dallas 41 almost midway through the fourth quarter.

Aware he set the record because he could see his progress flashed repeatedly on the stadium's Jumbotrons, Smith quickly got to his feet and danced around before being mobbed by teammates.

He then knelt in prayer, celebrated more, then went to the sideline to embrace his wife, Pat, mother, Mary, and his three small children, again prompting tears from Smith. He later was overcome with emotion once more on the sideline while hugging his longtime lead blocker, retired fullback Daryl Johnston.

It also touched Smith to have Payton's brother, Eddie, on hand, and to hear a taped video message from Payton's widow, Connie.

"You've got your mom out there and there's nothing that gets you as emotional as seeing your mom," said Smith, who tried in vain to thank everyone who has primarily blocked for him over the years. "Then you've got your wife and your (kids). It was an emotional day."

It was questionable whether Smith would reach Payton's record Sunday, though the Seahawks came in as the league's worst against the run (189.5 rushing yards allowed per game). In fact, Smith said Seahawks defensive tackle Chad Eaton boasted repeatedly from the ceremonial coin toss that Seattle wasn't going to let Smith get the record.

"He kept saying, 'You're not going to get it on us. You aren't going to get it,' " Smith said. "He talked more noise today than anybody. So, when it finally happened, he just said congratulations."

The suspense essentially ended early when Smith piled up 55 on nine carries in the first quarter. As expected, the Cowboys called Smith's number early and often, running him three straight times to open their first series, good for 14 yards.

Smith looked as if he might get the record in the second quarter when he came within 31 yards early. But Smith lost 4 and 3 yards on consecutive carries and the offense, led by quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who was making his first start, bogged down, leaving Smith with four carries for no yards in the second quarter.

The Cowboys (3-5) went back to Smith late in the third when he ripped off a handful of runs to move within 13 yards entering the fourth. From then on, fans stood for every play, cameras flashing each time Smith got the ball until he squirted through the line for that record-setting 11-yard gain on second and 7.

"Once I broke the line of scrimmage, I knew that had to be the one," he said.

Smith talked around questions of whether his achievement makes him the league's greatest running back of all-time. But his value, at least to the Cowboys, will continue to be a hot topic because Smith, who's scheduled to make approximately $7-million next season, might become a salary-cap casualty at season's end.

Smith understandably wasn't in the mood to discuss the future, except to say that, despite speculation to the contrary, he isn't finished. He is at 16,743 yards and counting.

"It's been a 13-year journey, one that has ended (today) but is still traveling," said Smith, decked out in a dark suit. "I'm still just moving on and I don't plan on stopping any time soon."

EMMITT SMITH HIGHLIGHTS

NFL RECORDS

Rushing

Yards, career -- 16,743.

Attempts, career -- 3,929.

Touchdowns, season -- 25.

Touchdowns, career -- 150.

Yards, postseason -- 1,586.

Touchdowns, postseason -- 19.

100-yard games, postseason -- 7.

1,000-yard seasons -- 11 (1991-2001).

Fastest to 100 career TDs -- 93 games, tying Jim Brown.

Seasons with 10 TDs -- 8.

OTHER NFL RANKINGS

Yards from scrimmage, career -- 19,746, third.

Touchdowns, career -- 161, second.

100-yard games -- 74, third.

Overall touchdowns, season -- 25, second.

Seasons led league in rushing -- 4, tied for second.

Consecutive seasons led league in rushing -- 3, tied for second.

Seasons led league in touchdowns -- 4, tied for second.

Consecutive 100-yard games -- 11, tied for third (twice)

Seasons led league in carries -- 3, tied for fourth.

Most 100-yard games, season -- 11, tied for fifth.

NFL RECORD RUNNING BACKS

16,743: Emmitt Smith, Dallas (1990-present)

16,726: Walter Payton, Chicago (1984-2002)

12,312: Jim Brown, Cleveland (1963-83)

8,280: *Joe Perry, San Francisco, Baltimore (1958-62)

5,860: Steve Van Buren, Philadelphia (1949-57)

3,860: Clarke Hinkle, Green Bay (1941-48)

3,511: Cliff Battles, Boston-Washington (1932-40)

-- (Since 1932 when NFL started keeping individual stats)

*Perry gained 1,345 yards in the All-American Football Conference, that are not recognized by the NFL.

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