Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Updated: October 1, 4:49 PM ET
Emmitt won't recognize these Cowboys
IRVING, Texas -- When Emmitt Smith returns to Texas Stadium
on Sunday, he'll recognize the surroundings, former teammates and
other friends in the Dallas Cowboys organization.
Beyond the obvious, though, Smith might not recognize these
Now defined by a coach instead of a player -- specifically, him --
the Cowboys seem to have cleaned up the "trash" that Smith felt
surrounded by last season and have embraced a new attitude that is
already paying off.
Smith was right when he said that things around Valley Ranch
were a mess last season, he just erred by referring to himself as a
"diamond surrounded by trash."
What he failed to say -- or, worse, see -- was that he was part of
From the start, the 2002 season was all about Smith and his
pursuit of Walter Payton's career rushing record. The team's
marketing campaign was built around it. There was even a digital
yardage tracker on a billboard outside the stadium.
As Smith got closer, attention mounted. So did the pressure on
coaches to make sure he got enough carries. Coaches couldn't help
but be cognizant of the record chase, even if their only concern
was getting the darn thing out of the way.
As for other players, they got sick of it pretty fast. Although
they said all the right things then -- well, everyone except Troy
Hambrick, who was trying to take Smith's job -- they felt swallowed
"I think sometimes it felt as though the season was based on
him getting his rushing record rather than us having a successful
winning percentage," defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. "It was
"We have better things to focus on as a team," Ekuban said,
"and that's winning games."
To be fair, Smith was all about winning games, too. It's just
that he believed the best way to do so was by giving him 30
carries, which he usually turned into 100-plus yards. Thus, a
perfect win-win situation.
If the Cowboys found another way to win, Smith was cool with it.
But if they tried another way and failed, well, No. 22 didn't like
it. And he didn't mind letting people know it, especially coach
(It's worth noting that on the memorable afternoon when the
record fell, Dallas lost a very winnable game. And remember that
before the finale, which Campo realized was his last game, too,
Campo almost proudly said his priority was getting Smith over 1,000
yards. He fell 25 short, gaining only 13 on 18 carries.)
Jerry Jones had a good read on it all. That's why he didn't
invite Smith to be part of the Bill Parcells era.
While Smith would've embodied Parcells' hard-work mantra, Jones
knew the handling of Smith would've been a distraction again.
Out of respect, Parcells probably would have kept him the
starter, which would have sent Hambrick squawking. There also
probably would have been a running back-by-committee, which would
have sent Smith squawking, too. And after every game the number of
carries each got would have been scrutinized.
Thus, a lose-lose situation.
Parcells wouldn't have cared, but he would have had to deal with
the fallout. It would have been a nuisance to everyone and a
potentially divisive locker-room topic, something no team needs,
especially not this one at this time.
"I really thought his stature would possibly limit some of the
initial work that needed to be done here," Jones said Tuesday.
To his credit, Smith knew it, too, which is why he and Jones
never even got around to discussing money. Both realized it would
be best for everyone for Smith to zig while the Cowboys zagged.
Things have worked out quite well, at least in Dallas.
The Parcells Way has been embraced by everyone, and there's been
little second-guessing about playing time or anything else. In
fact, the season has been so controversy-free that Parcells even
spoke Monday about waiting for adversity to strike just so he can
see how the team responds.
There's a refreshing aura of hope surrounding the Cowboys now,
an arrow pointing up, as Jones called it.
Smith certainly remembers that feeling. If he looks closely,
he'll see it Sunday.<
^Extra points:@ WR/KR Reggie Swinton, who lost his role to rookie
Zuriel Smith, was traded to Green Bay for a conditional draft pick,
and OL Torrin Tucker was promoted from the practice squad. ...
Jones formally announced that Tex Schramm will be inducted into the
Ring of Honor at halftime on Oct. 12, when Dallas plays
Philadelphia. That date has been expected for months.