Countdown to Canton: Emmitt Smith, the Champion

No running back in NFL history has had the career that Emmitt Smith had. With the over/under of professional careers for RBs at around three, and with changes in the game that favor offensive passing attacks and rotating tailbacks, it's hard to imagine any runner surpassing Smith's mark of 18,355 rushing yards.

In recent years, it looked as if LaDainian Tomlinson would have a shot at Smith's rushing crown. Tomlinson, who has amassed 12,490 yards since 2001, has seen his production decline in the last four seasons. This year, at the age of 31, he will be sharing carries with Shonne Greene as a new New York Jet.

For a player to challenge Smith's record, he obviously has to be durable enough to sustain a long career. Production seems to drop dramatically for players who reach the 1,700-1,800 yard mark in a given season (see after Tomlinson's 2006 season).

Smith's durability is even more amazing when considering all the postseason games in which those Cowboys teams of the '90s played. Barry Sanders and the Lions sure weren't playing 18 to 19 games a year on a consistent basis. Those extra games each season had to take some toll on Smith's body. But he was the consummate competitor, tacking on 1,586 postseason rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Before the dynasty ended, he had seven postseason 100-yard rushing days, and nine straight in which he scored a touchdown.

There certainly are some runners younger than L.T. that have the potential to challenge for Emmitt's record. Remember, durability is key and these two guys below have injury histories.

Of the top 10 active runners in the NFL, only two backs are younger than 30 – Washington's Clinton Portis , who has 9,696 yards in eight seasons, and St. Louis' Steven Jackson, who has 6,707 yards in six seasons.

They have both missed 12 games during their careers. Smith missed 14 games in 13 seasons, and two came because of a contract dispute in 1993.

The newbies on the scene sure are exciting to watch...right now. We'll see how they hold up over the next decade though.

Two of the best backs in the NFL, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, are 24. Johnson had 2,006 yards last season in Tennesee. Peterson has had at least 1,341 in his first three seasons in Minnesota. Johnson would have to average more than 1,500 yards over the next 10 years to catch Smith. Peterson would have to average 1,387 over the next 10 years.

Peterson and Johnson have had excellent starts to their careers. But by the time they hang up their shoulder pads, will they have stats like these below?

He's the first player in NFL history with 5 straight seasons of 1,400 yards rushing

Emmitt is the only player with 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons; he has the most rushing attempts in NFL history with 4142

Emmitt also held the record for 9 years for the most rushing touchdowns in one season, 25

During his stellar career, Emmitt has led the NFL in rushing 4 times, won 3 Super Bowl Titles, League MVP honors in1993, the Super Bowl MVP Award (XXVIII), and has been selected to the Pro Bowl 8 times

Will any backs have a game like this: Emmitt's "signature" game (as Troy Aikman called it) in the '93 season finale at Giants Stadium?

During Emmitt Smith's rookie season in 1990, he told Michael Irvin about setting his goals towards Walter Payton's record. You have to imagine that every young running back has such lofty expectations.

"He said to me earlier that he wanted to do all that he's done. Isn't that amazing? That's amazing. I'm going to be in the Hall of Fame. Get out of here. Those are things that stand out for me. Super Bowls and all that, that's great. To sit around and hear somebody like Emmitt Smith say I'm going to be the all-time leading rusher and then for it to actually happen, come on, man. What are the odds of all of that? In the middle of winning three Super Bowls and all the Hall of Fame, those are the things that you will never forget. That determination. That conviction."

On October 27, 2002 at Texas Stadium, Smith accomplished his goals by becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher. An excerpt from our very own Maple Street Press Annual's "Running Into Canton: Remember what made Emmitt Smith great":

Second-and-7 at the Dallas 30. Just ten yards from breaking the record. Smith's family was in attendance. Former teammates, Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnston, watched anxiously from the sidelines. Prior to nearly every carry, Pat Summerall announced the yards needed for viewers at home. It was like a countdown. Smith took the handoff from quarterback Chad Hutchinson and hit the hole inside massive left tackle Flozell Adams. Following fullback Robert Thomas through the hole, he was tripped up just before breaking it for a score. The ball was spotted at the Dallas 41. He had gained 11 yards. He had gained immortality. He had broken Payton's record.

[snip]

While blue and white balloons floated up towards the famous hole in the Texas Stadium roof, fireworks exploded overhead. The crowd erupted into the first of several standing ovations for the NFL’s new all-time rushing leader. Smith, taking a couple of deep breaths, turned to the crowd and pumped his fist. It was his moment.
He took a knee and tapped the turf twice with his fist. "For you, Walter," he would later reveal.

Relive the day...

Current Cowboys center Andre Gurode was playing the day Emmitt broke the record.

Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode is the only player on the roster who played with Smith when he was with the Cowboys. Right guard Leonard Davis played with Smith when the two were with Arizona. Gurode was a rookie in 2002 when Smith surpassed Walter Payton as the career rushing leader.

"I actually remember him coming to me during that game before he broke the record," Gurode said. "I was suffering from a couple of injuries and he said, ‘All right big fellow. You've got to suck it up.' And I said, ‘Hey. You know what? If it means me being on the field with one leg to make sure you break the record, I'll get it done.' "So that's what I remember. I got it done."

After spending a couple of years with the Arizona Cardinals, Emmitt Smith retired as a Dallas Cowboy in early February of 2005. On September 19, 2005 he, along with his fellow Triplets--Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin--was added to the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

Tonight, when the Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony begins at 7 P.M. (EST), Smith will be the final speaker. He will be presented by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Once again, he will re-join Aikman and Irvin in the sport's most honorable venue: the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"I’m going home. I’m going home with the rest of the Cowboys, and I feel like it’s a place I belong," Smith said Friday. "I saw some greats, a lot of greats [Friday]. For me even to be considered to be in that class is a wonderful thing. You’re talking about a kid that had so many odds against him."

Smith officially will join the Hall of Fame Saturday night at the induction ceremony. He will be the last of the seven players to deliver his speech, the Pro Football Hall of Fame confirmed Friday.

Other than being honored as one of the best football players ever,  Emmitt Smith, today, remains close to football and has established his own charity.

Smith is the co-chairman of the Emerging Business Action Team as part of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee. This committee aims to get female- and minority-owned business owners certified and eligible for Super Bowl-related contracts that will be up for bid.

He is also the majority partner and co-chairman of ESmith Legacy Inc., a Dallas-based commercial real estate company founded to focus and deliver real estate solutions and services for both general and minority market development.

In April, he and his wife, Pat, established a celebrity invitational charity golf tournament, with proceeds benefiting Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities.

If you missed the first two parts of this Countdown to Canton series, here they are:

Part One: Emmitt Smith's Days Before the Dallas Cowboys

Part Two: Emmitt Smith's First Days with the Dallas Cowboys

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