It's been 20 years since a Dallas Cowboys scout had the audacity to suggest that a University of Florida running back named Emmitt Smith would be better than Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. That's what Walt Yaworsky said about the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Smith, and he turned out to be right.
Smith and Jerry Rice belong in the same Hall of Fame class. They're the best at their positions and they squared off as members of two remarkable organizations in the early '90s. I was junior at a Dallas area high school when the Cowboys weren't able to trade up for Baylor linebacker James Francis and had to settle on Smith. After a lot of internal debate, here are my five favorite moments from his storied career:
5. In November 1991, the Cowboys were a respectable 6-5, but it's not like anyone expected them to start going to Super Bowls. In a game against the Redskins, Smith carried the ball 34 times for 132 yards and surpassed 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career. He had better days during his career, but something about the way he kept launching his body into the fray in a 24-21 win stuck with me. Smith's one of the only backs I've seen who could carry it that many times and never let a defender get a clean shot at him.
4. In '94, Smith capped the season by collecting his Super Bowl MVP trophy. The Cowboys buried the Bills in that game and Smith had 158 all-purpose yards. No one loved the stage like Emmitt, and I think Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin were thrilled to see Smith receive the MVP. It's virtually impossible to choose the most important Triplet, but on this day, I think Smith would get my vote.
3. It was Oct. 27, 2002, and Smith passed Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list with 109 yards against the Seahawks. I don't believe anyone will ever surpass Smith's mark of 18,355 rushing yards. It was an emotional day, and in some ways, it would be his last great moment with the Cowboys.
2. When Smith was holding out at the start of '93, the Cowboys started 0-2. They were just a completely different team without Smith. He returned to the lineup and raced for 237 yards against the Eagles in October. It was a day when Aikman was hampered by the rain in Philadelphia and Smith simply took over the game.
1. The game that defines Smith's toughness in my mind is when the Cowboys outlasted the Giants 16-13 in overtime in '93. Smith played most of the game with a separated shoulder. The injury would have knocked most backs out of the game, but Smith stayed on the field and even had 10 receptions. One of the best individual efforts I've seen in any sport.