When asked to name a few highlights from his 1995 season, Dallas
running back Emmitt Smith brings up the Tuesday after the
Cowboys' Nov. 12 loss to San Francisco. "I was so low," says
Smith. "I went out to my car, and it was egged. All over the
radio and TV, people were ridiculing us, questioning our
courage. It was a difficult time to get geared up and go visit a
school." The running back was scheduled to appear at Leonard
Middle School in Fort Worth as the show-and-tell guest of Misty
Atkinson, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who had won a national Take
a Player to School contest.
"When I went over to that young lady's house and saw that smile
on her face, I forgot about the game," says Smith. "The kids at
the school treated me as if we had just won another Super Bowl.
They could have booed. Instead the kids were the ones acting
like adults should. That put things in perspective."
This year Smith has struggled through a few difficult moments--a
sprained left knee, a rash of uncharacteristic fumbles, the
unsuccessful fourth-and-one runs in the loss to Philadelphia on
Dec. 10--but none dim the brilliance of his overall performance.
When it comes to Smith's season, there is so much to show and
tell: No player in the division has done more to carry his team
this year than Smith, our NFC East Most Valuable Player. Smith
has accounted for an astounding 40% of the Cowboys' total yards
from scrimmage, 80% of their rushing yards and 50% of their
Highlights abound. On Smith's first carry of the year he ran for
a 60-yard touchdown. Two weeks later he sprinted 31 yards for
the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Smith has turned in 11
100-yard rushing games in '95 and was on pace for a 2,000-yard
season until he sprained his knee on Thanksgiving Day against
Kansas City. Still, he will finish the season with the best
numbers of his career. And as Smith goes, so go the Cowboys:
Over the last six seasons the team is 42-5 when Smith rushes for
100 or more yards.
"With the great players, there is no end," says Cowboy guard
Nate Newton. "When you think Emmitt has reached his peak, all of
a sudden he goes off and does something just a little better.
He's the total package." With one game remaining, Smith leads
the league in rushing with 1,705 yards (253 ahead of Detroit's
Barry Sanders) and will no doubt win his fourth NFL rushing
title. In Dallas's 21-20 win over the Giants on Sunday, Smith
tied the league's single-season touchdown record of 24, a mark
set by the Redskins' John Riggins in 1983.
"I think what sets Emmitt apart from most running backs in the
history of the game is his strength, his ability to break
tackles, his balance, his blocking and his vision," says Cowboy
running backs coach Joe Brodsky. "He blocks like an offensive
lineman, and he sees from sideline to sideline."
What also sets Smith apart is his ability to see beyond the
sideline. Smith has been taking classes at Florida during the
past several off-seasons and will graduate with a degree in
health and human performance in May. Last January, school
started the same week that Dallas lost to San Francisco in the
NFC Championship Game. Smith says that when classes for the 1996
spring semester are in full swing, he will be in Phoenix playing
in the Super Bowl. He thinks his professors will understand. A
championship ring would be perfect for show-and-tell.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER The sixth-year tailback has scored half of the Cowboys' touchdowns. [Emmitt Smith]