Thursday, February 4, 2010
The scout who fought for Emmitt
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- One of the most famous scouting reports in the history of the Dallas Cowboys' organization went missing several years ago, but there are witnesses who remember the final line. It was written by former Cowboys Southeast area scout Walt Yaworsky, a man who played center for Bear Bryant at Kentucky before a career in the pros.
Cowboys scout Walt Yaworsky reportedly wrote that Emmitt Smith, shown above after breaking the NFL rushing record in 2002, would "someday make Cowboys fans forget about Tony Dorsett."
"Emmitt Smith will someday make Cowboys fans forget about Tony Dorsett," read the final line of Yaworsky's report, according to a couple scouts who asked not to be identified in this story.
The statement sounds plausible in the aftermath of Smith's illustrious career, but it raised eyebrows at Valley Ranch in 1990. Yaworsky, not a man to mince words, was prepared to stake his reputation on the 5-9, 210-pound running back out of Florida. Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, a man highly regarded for recognizing talent, made it no secret that he hoped to draft Baylor linebacker James Francis. Johnson was reportedly prepared to move all the way up from No. 21 to No. 13 to select Francis, but the Bengals foiled his plans by picking him at No. 12.
The Cowboys eventually moved up to No. 17 and considered a group of players that included Rodney Hampton, Steve Broussard, Darrell Thompson and Smith. Yaworsky, who was also instrumental in scouting Michael Irvin, was adamant that Smith was the right player to replace Herschel Walker, who had been traded to the Vikings six months earlier. Described by those who knew him best as an "Archie Bunker-type personality," Yaworsky said to hell with 40-yard dash times and informed Johnson and Jerry Jones that Smith had the best vision of any running back he'd ever scouted.
I finally tracked down Yaworsky in Cleveland, Tenn., on Wednesday. He was very modest about his role in the process and kept deferring to "the talented coaches from Miami" in reference to Johnson and his staff.
"He was unique because he wasn't real tall," Yaworsky finally said after some coaxing. "I thought he was in Jimmy Brown's class from the start. He just had this peripheral vision and he seemed to know exactly where his linemen were going to be without ever having to take a peek."
Yaworsky thought Smith was the perfect type of back because most of his weight was in the lower body and he did a superb job of keeping his pad level low. Smith had an uncanny knack for making his body go limp at the moment of impact so that he never took a lot of clean shots. Old-school scouts such as Yaworsky knew that 40-yard dash times, while instructive, shouldn't define players.
Smith never ran better than a 4.5 40-yard dash, but it was his ability to change direction on a dime without losing speed that made him so special. Football isn't played on a straight line and that's why it's not a given that a 4.3 40-yard dash will translate to great rushing numbers.
I'm not even sure if Smith himself knows how much Yaworsky fought for him leading up to the draft. Time has a way of obscuring the facts and that's why you'll hear other scouts' names come up in regard to Smith. But the guys who looked at that old report know the truth. On Saturday here in Fort Lauderdale, it's pretty much a given that Smith will be voted into the Hall of Fame. He and Jerry Rice are virtual locks.
Before I hung up the phone Wednesday, I asked Yaworsky if he ever wondered what happened to that report. It might be worth something.
"Oh, I cleaned out the garage a while back," he said. "So that probably rules out any hope of it surfacing."