Might not have been the fastest nor strongest nor most agile running back
) history, but on October 27, 2002
Emmitt Smith surpassed Walter Payton
's 16,726 yards to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
Smith (DOB: May 15, 1969, Pensacola, Florida) had a standout college football career at the University of Florida, leading to him being selected in the 1990 NFL Draft in the 1st round, 17th overall, by the Dallas Cowboys. (Smith was the second RB taken; my beloved New York Jets selected Penn State's Blair Thomas 2nd overall.)
The 1989 Cowboys were a horrible 1-15, with their leading rusher (the forgetable Paul Palmer) totalling only 446 yards. Smith ran for 937 yards in his 1990 rookie season as the Cowboys improved to 7-9. For his efforts, Smith won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. It would be the only time in his career that Emmitt failed to rush for at least 1000 yards.
In 1991, Emmitt broke loose, leading the NFL with 1563 rushing yards in only his second season. The Cowboys went 11-5, making the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Smith, along with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin formed the "Triplets", the core of a Cowboys team that would become arguably the best team of the 1990s decade.
1992 was more of the same, with Smith winning his second straight league rushing title (1713 yards) and a league-leading 19 touchdowns (18 of them rushing). The Cowboys improved to 13-3, shocked the 14-2 San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Championship Game and went to Super Bowl XXVII. Smith rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys' 52-17 throttling of the Buffalo Bills to become Super Bowl champions. The upstart Cowboys had gone from 1-15 to champions in 3 seasons, and Emmitt Smith was the main reason.
1993 was a repeat of 1992 in many ways. Smith led the NFL for a 3rd straight season in rushing yards (1486). The Cowboys went 12-4, beat San Francisco again in the NFC Championship Game, and defeated Buffalo (again) in Super Bowl XXVIII 30-13. Smith won Super Bowl MVP honors, by rushing for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also won the NFL MVP that season for the only time in his career.
Smith and the Cowboys would win another championship two seasons later, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX. Smith had only 49 yards, but two touchdowns in the victory. That 1995 season was the best of Smith's career, with league and career highs in rushes (377), rushing yards (1773), and touchdowns (25). The 25 touchdowns in a season is an NFL record. Smith also set a career high with 62 receptions, emphasizing his surprising pass catching skills.
Neither the Cowboys, nor Smith, would recapture that level of greatness the rest of the decade. However, Smith continued to rack up the yards, with an NFL record 11 straight 1000 yard seasons (1990-2001. Likely to be extended to 12 this season). He surpassed Marcus Allen for the all-time rushing touchdown record (148 through 2001), and progressed towards Payton's legendary mark.
Smith broke the record on an 11-yard run in the 3rd quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks. The mark was set at home, allowing Smith to bask in the adoration of the Dallas fans.
Smith, like Payton, had tremendous endurance. Emmitt never played less than 14 games (out of a 16 game season) his whole career, missing a mere 7 games in 11 seasons. Earlier in 2002, Smith broke Payton's all-time rushes record as well.
A 9-time Pro Bowler, Smith's #22 uniform has become synonymous with the Cowboys success in the 1990s. He'll likely retire within the next season or two. His rushing record won't be challenged for quite some time (the 2nd leading active rusher, Jerome Bettis, trails Smith by more than 5000 yards). Beyond that, Smith is a certain future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No, Emmitt Smith is definitely not the quickest, most powerful, nor most elusive back in NFL history. However, he's certainly one of the best and most prolific, and has the numbers to back it up. 4 league rushing titles, 3 Super Bowl rings, and the all-time rushing record assure his place in football history
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