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Emmitt Smith was home alone one night in April, minding his own business, when the old picture started crowding his head again. It was Walter Payton, the former Chicago Bears great who rushed for more yards than any back in NFL history. Payton was wearing his familiar number 34. He had that big C on the side of his helmet, and he was chomping on that funny-looking mouthpiece. And he was running, running because that's how Emmitt sees him whenever the picture comes back: Payton slipping past the defense, Payton finding open field, Payton scoring a touchdown.

This night a torrent of numbers came trailing after the picture, and Emmitt felt compelled to write them down. He got out a pen and a piece of paper and made a note that Payton had rushed for almost 17,000 yards in his career. Next to that figure Emmitt scribbled the number 9,000, which is approximately how many yards he has gained since joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1990.

On the page the difference seemed incredible. Payton's figure looked huge, almost epic, while Emmitt's seemed small and insignificant. After considering the disparity for a while, Emmitt did some simple arithmetic. If over the next five years you gain 1,500 yards a season, he said to himself, that'll give you another 7,500.

He was writing furiously now, his face crimped with intensity. It was history, after all, that he was trying to draw a bead on: a place where no runner had ever gone before. Add the 7,500 to the 9,000 you've already gained, he continued, and your total is 16,500.

It was still a few hundred yards short of Payton's mark. But there was something else to consider. In five years Emmitt would be 31. Payton finished his playing career at 33.

"I can be there," Emmitt said later, when he found himself fixating on the great Walter Payton again. "But I've got to hit one helluva pace. I've got to get ahead of the curve...and I can do that. There's time, there's time."

What makes Emmitt run? Why is he in such a hurry? What, exactly, does he expect to find when he gets where he's going?

Today he'll find a new $2 million manse in Addison, Texas, just north of Dallas, because that's where he's headed now, wheeling through traffic with an intensity of purpose that would shame even the Indy 500 boys. Emmitt moved into the house over the Christmas holidays, and he really couldn't be happier, despite the fact that the curtains and bedroom suite haven't come yet and the lawn's a little spotty. Emmitt spared no expense in building the place, for this was to be the home of a man who in only six pro seasons had already won three Super Bowls and four rushing titles and who last year set the NFL record for most touchdowns in a season, 25. To reflect his great good fortune, Emmitt wanted something altogether spectacular. And so now he has it: a home suited for Jay Gatsby, or at least for the best football player in the game today.

Until he made the move, Emmitt occupied fairly modest accommodations for a man of his means, in keeping with his reputation for being someone who likes to stay close to his money. He rented apartments, one after another, never paying more than $800 a month for two bedrooms. But when the annual value of his endorsement deals came to equal that of his $3.4 million salary with the Cowboys, Emmitt threw some money at an architect and said, "O.K., build it," and after 13 torturous months it was ready.

To celebrate, Emmitt's family came out from Pensacola, Fla., over the holidays, and some 30 guests stayed at the house. Emmitt's mother, Mary Smith, always the paragon of modesty, took her shoes off before climbing the staircase, not wanting to scratch the mahogany. "Emmitt, you should cover this with some carpet," she told him. And Emmitt answered, "Mama, you don't cover wood that pretty with carpet." What was amazing was how easily the house held everyone. On Christmas morning the family held hands and sang songs, and everybody was just so happy that Emmitt was happy. He remembered how, when he was a boy, he mowed lawns for money and sold pecans and aluminum cans and squirreled away his savings in a beat-up shoebox and dreamed a house like this one, dreamed it from top to bottom.

Today traffic is backed up, and every time Emmitt sees an opening, somebody fills it. Only a couple of miles from his house he comes to a tollbooth and hardly stops, throwing two quarters at the toll machine—one for himself, one for the reporter following in the car behind him. Emmitt puts an arm out the window and waves for the reporter to drive on, but the guy doesn't understand. He must think Emmitt's pointing at the sky or something, because he stops and feeds the machine a third quarter, and by then Emmitt is long gone, weaving through traffic, blowing past everybody.

Emmitt drives like he runs the football, which is to say hard and without pretense, and in minutes he has lost the reporter, and the reporter has lost him, and all Emmitt can do is pull over and wait in the parking lot of a shopping mall, and everybody knows how he hates to wait, how waiting to him is the slowest form of death.

Back in 1990, his rookie year, Emmitt had to be the first one off the ground after he was tackled. He was that impatient. He would push everybody off and race back to the huddle to see if Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman would let him run the ball again. The defense couldn't understand why Emmitt was in such a hurry, unless he had an attitude problem. But it wasn't that, and it wasn't about being young, either. "I just had this energy," Emmitt says. "I had this...enthusiasm." Then one day after a game, his father, Emmitt Smith Jr., pulled him aside and gave him a look. Emmitt's dad doesn't talk much, and sometimes when he gives you a look, it's like he's giving you a smack in the chops. He wondered why Emmitt couldn't be patient and wait on the ground like a normal person. "Son," he said, "you know how much energy you waste trying to be the first one up like that?"

Emmitt thought about it for a minute. "You're right," he finally said. And the next week, when he was tackled, he lay there and looked at the world and admired it and felt altogether grateful for his place in it.

"You hurt, Emmitt?" came a voice. It was a guy on the other team. Everybody had gotten off Emmitt by then, and he was still lying there, just as his father had told him to.

"Hurt?" Emmitt said. "No, I ain't hurt." And then a remarkable thing happened. Before Emmitt could rise on his own power, the guy was offering him a hand. He was helping Emmitt up, expending some of his own energy, conserving Emmitt's.

There was a powerful lesson in that, if you had time to look. But who has time anymore, least of all Emmitt, the busiest man in all of football? And now in the parking lot of the shopping mall, after having blown about 15 minutes of his valuable time, Emmitt is starting to get jumpy. He wanted to give the reporter a tour of his house—let him meet the dogs, show him the minibars and the porcelain doll collection, walk him through the master bedroom suite and bath. Emmitt drives to where his car can be seen from the street, and at long last the reporter arrives. "Why'd you take off like that?" the guy asks, sticking his head out his car window.

But Emmitt doesn't answer. He shifts into drive and gives his Lexus a long, tall drink of unleaded.

The truth is, Emmitt's been on the run since the day he was born, his body clock ticking faster than everybody else's. The pace hasn't hurt him. He's entering the last year of his contract with the Cowboys, and after the 1996 season he's likely to sign a new deal with Dallas making him the highest-paid player in football. "That's all up to Jerry," Emmitt says, referring to the team's owner, Jerry Jones.

The Cowboys aren't all there is to Emmitt, though. He's also a businessman who at last count presided over four enterprises: Emmitt, Inc. (a collectibles and trading-card company), Emmitt Smith Communications Corporation (which sells and leases cellular phones and pagers), Emmitt Zone, Inc. (which licenses his name to outfits such as Reebok, Starter and Scoreboard) and Emmitt Smith Charities (which handles his humanitarian endeavors). With all that—and football to boot—there's hardly a day on Emmitt's calendar that isn't filled a year in advance.

"If you were to ask me what Emmitt will be doing at two in the afternoon on November the 14th of this year, I could look at his calendar and tell you," says Horace Irwin Jr., executive vice president of Emmitt Smith Communications. "He really doesn't have a life of his own. People call and say, Can Emmitt do this? or Can Emmitt do that? and we look at his schedule, and the date's already taken. We feel bad about it, having to tell them no all the time, but Emmitt's a busy man."

Despite his commitments Emmitt will surprise you on occasion. Take, for instance, the grand opening last October of his Dallas cellular phone business. Emmitt arrived at the Preston Road address at seven in the morning, before most of his employees, his eyes bright with expectation. The phones started to ring, and Emmitt answered one. "Emmitt Smith Communications," he said. "This is Emmitt."

His name inspired silence on the other end. It couldn't be Emmitt, not the one who plays for the Cowboys.

"It is me," Emmitt said. "Now how can I help you?"

Later that day Emmitt returned to the store and asked his staff how things were going. Everybody said, "Great." Sales were brisk, customers seemed satisfied. Emmitt was wearing a serious expression on his face. He asked for the folders of 10 customers. The folders held invoices with the names and phone numbers of people who had bought things at the store that day.

Emmitt went into an office and closed the door. He opened a file and found a name and called the person and said, "Hello, this is Emmitt Smith of Emmitt Smith Communications. You came by our business today, and I just wanted to know how the service was. Did everything go all right?"

Again, some of those he called didn't believe it was really Emmitt. They laughed and stammered and succumbed to mild fits of hysteria. Didn't he have more important things to do? With the football season in full swing, could he possibly have time to phone a complete stranger and ask how his new cellular service was working out?

"If we can be of any help," Emmitt said, "please don't hesitate to call or come by."

"There are so many qualities that Emmitt possesses, and the most impressive one is that he's a good person," says Joe Brodsky, the Cowboys' running backs coach. "Emmitt was brought up properly. He knows where he's going at all times and how to get there. He's what I call a complete grinder, meaning he's totally focused and will do anything it takes to win. I don't think there's a selfish bone in Emmitt's body. He'd give it all up—everything—for the team."

Back when Emmitt was a student at Escambia High in Pensacola, his football coach used to say, "It's a dream until you write it down. Then it's a goal." And Emmitt never forgot that. He all but branded the words on his heart, and he was always writing things down. When Emmitt was a rookie, before he had even played his first game, one of his Dallas teammates, safety James Washington (now with the Washington Redskins), stopped by to visit him at his apartment and found Emmitt sitting and writing things like "Rookie of the Year" and "leading rusher" on a piece of paper.

"What are you doing?" Washington asked.

Emmitt held up the list. "This is what I want to accomplish this season."

Emmitt is no different when it comes to business. Write it down and it isn't a dream—it's a goal. "One day not long ago," says Everett Brooks, marketing manager for Emmitt Smith Communications, "Emmitt came in and sat down and started putting together an organization chart detailing exactly where he wants to be in six months. He wrote it all out, in detail: I want this person here, and I want this person to be doing this. He was projecting future job assignments for people. He knows what he wants. And nothing will stop him."

One of Emmitt's goals is to be as successful off the field as he is on it. That requires dedication. That requires go go go. And, sometimes, that requires pulling people aside and asking the hard questions.

"Tell me something, Everett," Emmitt said to Brooks one day recently. "Why do you have so much inventory in here?" They were standing in the stockroom.

"Well," Brooks answered, looking around, "we're having a promotion this coming Friday."

"O.K.," Emmitt said. "Fine. Keep up the good work."

If God is in the details, as they say, then Emmitt will learn the details. He will learn all he needs to know to stay ahead of the game. To achieve this end he has surrounded himself with good people. In fact, his lawyer, Mike Ferguson, is a retired brigadier general of the U.S. Army. Most players are content to hire a lawyer bright enough to have passed the bar exam, but not Emmitt. Emmitt's lawyer, you don't know whether to shake his hand or hit the dirt and give him 10 push-ups. And what does Emmitt call the man?

"Mike," Ferguson says. "He did ask me once, early on, if he should call me General, but, no, I said Mike was fine."

Somebody comes to Emmitt with a business proposition, Ferguson checks it out. Restaurants, nightclubs, shopping centers, you name it: Emmitt has been asked to invest in them all. One group even wanted him to put some money into a satellite. At the end of each year Ferguson convenes a summit conference of Emmitt's business associates. "His corporate entities are represented," Ferguson says. "His financial advisers, his accountants, his corporate general managers. Emmitt is at every meeting, making decisions."

A few years ago Emmitt was earning only about $500,000 a year in endorsement money. Other celebrity athletes were making fortunes; Michael Jordan led the pack with roughly $40 million a year. Emmitt decided he could be doing better. He gave his agent six months to come up with a plan to market him better, and when the agent failed to satisfy him, Emmitt hired somebody else. "I want to be the Michael Jordan of football," he told Werner Scott of the Advantage Marketing Group, a Dallas firm that now oversees Emmitt's commercial ventures.

After Emmitt was named MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII in January 1994, Scott organized a summit of his own at Walt Disney World in Orlando. He called it the Team Emmitt Summitt, and he brought together marketing reps from companies that either had a relationship with Emmitt or wanted to develop one. The group spent a couple of days trying to decide how best to sell Emmitt to the world, and Emmitt was there for every meeting, taking notes, pitching ideas of his own.

"I don't want to overexploit myself," he says now. "But to sit here and be in the position I'm in and not really explore my opportunities and maximize them, I'd be wasting my talent. I'd be dumb." Since 1995 he has earned as much from endorsements as he has from the Cowboys. "Maybe in the near future," he says, "we can double or triple that. Maybe next year."

If he can wait that long.

The pace, the drive, the hunger—they're nothing new to Emmitt. He hustled even as a kid, always a step ahead of others his age, always looking for records to topple.

Nine months old, for instance, and he had already figured out how to climb out of his crib. His family would be eating in the kitchen or sitting in the den, and Emmitt would appear with a look of hot, eager triumph on his face. Try, the look seemed to say. Try and catch me. They'd run at him with arms outstretched, and he'd scamper just past their grasp, an escape artist even then.

A month or two later, not even a year old, Emmitt started working on his game. His mother had noticed that he quieted down whenever there was football on TV, so she took to placing him in a swing in front of the set every time a game was on. Emmitt would sit there transfixed, his dark, wobbling eyes following the action to all points on the screen. He had the keenest concentration, as if he were memorizing plays, sets, formations. "Football," Emmitt says. "I remember it before anything else. Sitting there watching, wanting to play. It's my earliest memory. Before anything else, there was football."

At two he was walking the edges of curbs and the tops of fences, his arms spread out like the wings of an airplane, and not even a big, fast wind could knock him down. On the playground you couldn't tackle him, either. Emmitt was like one of those inflatable punching dummies: No matter how hard you hit the thing, it never fell over. At eight his legs were thick and knotted with muscle, his shoulders nicely rounded. He played mini-mite football, but there was nothing mini or mite about him.

His father drove a Pensacola city bus, and his mother was a document clerk for a bank. The Smiths were low-income, so for a time they lived in a housing project on busy Cervantes Street. Even though they didn't have much money, Emmitt knew what made the world go around. His grandfather would take him to the bank and lecture him on the importance of hard work, sacrifice, hustle. Emmitt loved going to the bank. He wanted things, and he was willing to work to get them. When he was in high school and his mother couldn't afford to buy him the designer clothes he favored, he took on menial jobs and scrimped and saved and bought the clothes himself.

"That was a valuable lesson," he would say many years later. "It gave me a sense of independence. It showed me that if I earn my own money, then I've got the right to spend it on whatever I want, and nobody can say anything about it."

True to form, Emmitt even beat the rest of the field to puberty. He had whiskers at 12. They came in dense, furry bunches, while the whiskers of all the other kids could be counted one-two-three. "Eighth grade, and he looked like a grown man," says Johnny Nichols, one of Emmitt's oldest and best friends.

At 13 Emmitt was practicing the moves he uses today. You gave him the ball and he could see things: the play developing as if in slow motion, the hole that everybody else saw as only a crease, the very intent of the defense.

Jimmy Nichols used to go to middle school track meets to see Emmitt run. Jimmy is Johnny's father, and back in those days he was the offensive coordinator at Escambia High. "The guy could really go," Jimmy says of Emmitt. "Rules kept us from talking to him, but I kept hearing that he was coming to Escambia, and you can just about imagine how excited that made me. His speed was impressive, and most people don't think he has great speed. I will say this about that: Nobody ever caught Emmitt from behind. It's deceptive speed. He does what he has to do. Not only could he run as an eighth-grader, but the way the kid handled and presented himself set him apart. This was a young man as a 13-year-old."

Dwight Thomas, then Escambia's head coach, had the same first impression. He once told a reporter from USA Today that, after meeting Emmitt, he dug up the kid's birth certificate just to make sure he wasn't as old as he seemed.

Fourteen was when Emmitt first ventured into a weight room and settled under a barbell. He liked it: the warm iron bar, the clattering plates. In a month he was squatting 400 pounds and clean-and-jerking 275. Coaches and players watched in heart-hammering wonder, their mouths forming circles. "Fourteen," they whispered.

At the start of two-a-days, Thomas and Nichols gave Emmitt a locker in the varsity dressing room. They also gave him two weeks to prove himself deserving of the honor, but Emmitt took care of that at the first few practices. "Since nobody could exactly tackle the guy...," recalls Nichols.

The year before, Escambia had won only one of 10 games, but during Emmitt's freshman season, in 1983, the Gators went 7-3 and barely missed the playoffs. Emmitt carried the team, just as he would for the next few years. Back in those days he was barely 5'9", but he could dunk a basketball. His thighs were almost as big around then as they are now: 27 inches. Emmitt went to stores and ogled the yawning racks of jeans, not one pair of which he could pull up past his knees. "Mama," he complained, "why can everybody wear jeans but me?"

Sixteen, and the college recruiters started to gather along the sidelines to watch him practice. They came by the dozens, all manner of recruiters from all kinds of schools: hustlers and dreamers, losers and champions and also-rans. It was a rare autumn Friday night that Emmitt didn't rush for more than 100 yards, but that wasn't the only reason people went to see him. A sort of folklore had grown up around him, and people wanted to be able to say they had seen him play way back when.

He was so much fun to watch, the legend goes, that a coach for rival Gulf Breeze High complained one night when Nichols pulled Emmitt out of the game. It was Escambia's policy to bench its starters as soon as the game got out of reach, and in this one the outcome was settled early in the third quarter. "It was something like 45-0," Nichols recalls. "And after the game the coach for the other team is mad as hell. He comes over and says, 'Jimmy, what are you doing taking Emmitt out?' I said, 'Look here, I have no intention of embarrassing you and your kids.' He said, 'Come on! I like watching the kid run!'"

In four years at Escambia, Emmitt gained slightly more than 8,800 yards rushing, the fourth-best career total ever for a schoolboy running back. Parade magazine named him the national high school Player of the Year in 1986, and USA Today, in doing the same, put him on its lead sports page. FLORIDA PREP BECOMING A LEGEND, FAST, said the headline.

"We do three things here on offense," Thomas said. "We hand the ball to Emmitt, we pitch the ball to Emmitt, and we throw the ball to Emmitt."

As the Gatorade Player of the Year, too, Emmitt won an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena. He took Johnny Nichols along, and they stayed in a luxury hotel and really lived it up for a few days. More than 120 million people watched the game on TV, but there Emmitt was, in person, on the floor of the Rose Bowl. As thrilled as he was by the experience, he was able to keep it in perspective. Super Bowls were his destiny. "One day," he said, turning to Nichols with a look of absolute conviction, "I'm going to play in a game like this."

But first he had college, and that was Florida. Emmitt broke a personal streak when he failed to start in his first game as a freshman. When Gators coaches recruited him, they had promised that he would start right away, and yet in the opener, against Miami, Emmitt found himself watching from the sideline until the fourth quarter. Didn't they know he didn't like to wait? Couldn't they see what a hurry he was in?

After the game coach Galen Hall tried his best to calm Emmitt down. Didn't want to put too much pressure on you too soon, was basically what he said. Didn't want you to go losing your confidence. Emmitt didn't start the second game, against Tulsa, either, but when he got the call in the first quarter, he showed them, he showed everybody. Emmitt gained a total of 109 yards and scored a couple of touchdowns, one of them on a 66-yard run. Hall let him start the third game, against Alabama, and Emmitt responded with 224 yards and two touchdowns and led the Gators to a 23-14 upset. No Florida player had ever gained as many yards on the ground in one game, which to Emmitt sounded more like it: He was back on the fast track, waiting for no one.

In Game 7, in mid-October, Emmitt passed the 1,000-yard mark, becoming the first runner in college football history to get there that fast. "He definitely was the big man around Gainesville," says Johnny Nichols, then Emmitt's roommate, "but it never went to his head. He was the same Emmitt we all knew before. Humble."

Emmitt decided to go pro after his junior year. The football program at Florida was going through tough times. Hall resigned during the 1989 season, and NCAA probation was looming. And there was one more thing that helped Emmitt make up his mind: For the first time the NFL would allow teams to draft underclassmen, and Emmitt was a lock to go high.

The day of the draft he gathered with family and friends at a beach house in Pensacola. Whenever the phone rang, Mary answered, then passed the receiver to Emmitt, who retreated to a bedroom and talked for a minute before coming back out. Each call carried the weight of enormous possibility, and it racked the relatives' nerves just to hear the phone ring. Sixteen players were chosen before Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson called. Mary greeted him with a polite but anxious hello and handed him over to Emmitt. After talking in the bedroom, Emmitt emerged with a grave expression on his face.

"Well, what did he say?" somebody asked.

Emmitt was quiet for a second. Then he said, "He wanted to know if I wanted to wear a star on my helmet."

Everybody screamed and hollered, and Emmitt went out by himself to look at the Gulf of Mexico and ponder the future.

The gate, which rolls from side to side on a track, is a little slow in opening but plenty tall enough to keep undesirables out. Last season, after the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers for the NFC championship, Emmitt came home to find a gift from a neighbor named Jim sitting in front of the gate. It was a magnum of champagne in a silver-plated bucket. What a good man Jim was, to do that. Later, when Emmitt saw Jim, he asked if Jim wanted the bucket back. The thing looked expensive, and Emmitt wanted to make sure...well, did he want it? Jim said no way, and Emmitt said, "Then you'll have to come over when I open the champagne. We'll celebrate together."

Life was good and getting better all the time. Emmitt wasn't even 30 yet, and already he owned a champagne bucket. You should check the record books on that one, too. It's usually your older crowd that owns champagne buckets.

Emmitt lives by himself in the house, all 13,000 square feet of it. There's a woman he dates, but there's much to do yet before he even thinks about getting married. For now it's just Emmitt and his two Akitas. When they see him driving up today they scramble to the front of their kennel and snort around and generally do their best to let him know how much they like him. Emmitt named them after a couple of characters in a movie nobody saw.

"That one's Tango, and that one's Cash," he says, but he doesn't point, so it's hard to tell who is who. The dogs don't seem to know either.

Emmitt walks through the garage, where he thinks he might build a model-railroad town one of these days. It would be more than a town, actually—more like a little version of the world in this garage, with about 14 stops. One stop might be a place in the mountains, another a resort by the ocean. Emmitt has even considered including the Dallas location where President Kennedy was shot. He would put in the Texas School Book Depository and the grassy knoll and the motorcade. It's all down the road a bit, but he's determined to build the thing. "Maybe when I'm married and have kids," he says.

The house is extremely clean and beautiful. Emmitt could stick a sign in the yard that says LIFE AT THE TOP and sell tickets to sightseers and pay off the mortgage right there. He goes to the den, where pictures of his family stand in large frames. There are his three brothers, his two sisters. There's Mary. There's his dad. And there's Emmitt with Roy Jones Jr., the super middleweight champion. Jones is from Pensacola, too, and the two of them have been friends for years. People back home are always telling Emmitt that Roy did this and Roy did that for Pensacola and that Roy still lives in Pensacola. Emmitt says, "But my work is in Dallas. I have to live there. I can't play the Super Bowl in Pensacola, can I?" But that isn't explanation enough. They still take their swipes.

"I honestly believe people in Pensacola will not be happy until I fall flat on my face," Emmitt says, in a rare dark moment. He hardly ever gets back to his hometown. Four or five days a year, maybe. Once when he was there he went out to a club, and one of his old pals from high school joined him, and after a while the old friend turned to him and said, "Emmitt, can I have your autograph?" The guy had one of those looks, too, as if he had just glimpsed heaven and wanted to snatch a puff of cloud. And the look, coming from a friend, irritated Emmitt no end. "Man, what do you need my autograph for?" he said. "You know me better than anybody in here."

"Shoot, you're a superstar," Emmitt's buddy said.

"I'm Emmitt. We played ball together. You've been in my house."

"Yeah," the guy said, "but you've been on Arsenio Hall." They talked on for a while, Emmitt growing more depressed by the second. When he got back to his parents' house that night, he slept on the couch in the living room. It was where he'd slept sometimes when he was a kid. "You're stargazing," Emmitt had told his friend, and it all made Emmitt wonder, Is it possible to get too big too fast? If you run way out ahead of everyone else, where does that leave you? All alone in a nightclub crowded with people, one of them shoving a scrap of paper at you and saying, "Sign here, Mr. Superstar"?

But, hey, Emmitt has moved to another room of his new house now. And you should see it. "This is my kitchen," he says. "This cost pretty good. Come to think of it, somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000. Those cabinets, that's mahogany with a high gloss on top. Check out those stools. Go ahead, pick one up. Heavy as hell, ain't it? That refrigerator door? That's mahogany, too. See the finish?" He gives a nod. "Right. High gloss."

He moves from room to room and eventually makes his way upstairs. "This is my little boy's room," he says.

Your little boy?

"Well, when I have a little boy...."

In the game room he pauses before an enormous fish tank and bends over, staring through the glass. "Some of these things in here," he says, "they look dead, but they're not." He points to a fluttering wisp of something on a rock. "Now that—yes, that is a skeleton. If it looks dead, it's because it is."

In spite of everything that a new house demands and all that this one has to offer, Emmitt still gets restless on occasion. How long can you look at fish? How many movies can you watch? It was on one such night that he rounded up the pen and the piece of paper and compared his numbers with Payton's. "It's a dream until you write it down," his coach told him half a lifetime ago. "Then it's a goal." Somewhere in the heat of all that scribbling, lost in the numbers, was the place to which Emmitt was running.

To end the tour today, he goes through a glass door and stands outside on the balcony. It's getting late, and the shadows are long, and the view is all manner of lovely. You can see Emmitt's barbecue and smoker down to the right. Straight ahead, occupying a big chunk of the backyard, is Emmitt's swimming pool. It's a little cold to go for a dip, but the pool is in perfect shape, a dream. And, wait, what's that down there on the bottom?

Emmitt leans over the rail to get a better look. "Oh," he says. "That's a friend of mine." The image is made of blue and white tiles, and though it lacks the precision of a snapshot, it's so familiar that even 20,000 gallons of water can't distort it.

Bursting through a Cowboys star, kicking a knee high, is Emmitt, the ball tucked against his body for safekeeping. He's running, of course, running for the goal line, running for the victory, running as if to forever.