Emmit’s rushing title bitter compared to ‘Sweetness’

by David Morain

When this year’s NFL season began, I only wished for two things: 1) that the Vikings would play like they did back in 1998 and 2) that Emmitt Smith would break his leg before he got close to the all-time rushing record. I gave up hope on the Vikes after a 2-5 start that leaves them somewhere between the Cincinnati Bengals and Sister Francine’s School for Ill-Tempered Ladies; however, I remained hopeful that some horrible accident would befall one particular Dallas Cowboy running back. Sunday’s game against the Seahawks quelled all the hope I had left.

There are a million and one reasons why one should pray that Smith would not break Walter “Sweetness” Payton’s rushing record of 16,726 yards. Here are just a few:

#1: He’s a Cowboy. America’s team? Since when did we become a nation of dope-smuggling cokeheads with an affinity for domestic abuse?

#34: Payton exemplified everything that is great about football. Where Smith had Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper and Jay Novecek to help keep the pressure off, Payton had to be the entire offense most of the time. During the Bear’s 1985 championship season, Sweetness was the team’s leading rusher and receiver.

#156: Smith has three Super Bowl rings from 1992, 1993 and 1995. Sweetness just has the one from 1985, and he didn’t even get a touchdown in the game. With the Bear’s threatening on inside the five, they decided to give the ball to then-defensive lineman and current-TNN-celebrity-toughman William “The Refrigerator” Perry. He didn’t even get to score in the biggest game of his life. At least give him something.

#397: Smith keeps every football he ever scored a touchdown with in little baggies, probably right next to his collection of Precious Moments porcelain dolls. After a score, Payton would simply spike the ball and high-five his teammates.

#1,532: Smith appears in commercials with Alf. Enough said.

#17,876: If the record was going to be broken in the first place, ex-Lion Barry Sanders should have been the one to break it. He practically gave the record to Smith in a basket when he retired two years back, as he had more yards on fewer attempts than his Cowboy counterpart. To this day, if you ask any NFL expert who the best running back 90’s was, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that four out of five say Sanders.

#42,190: When Payton died, the entire city of Chicago held a day of mourning. People turned out in droves to Soldier Field to grieve with one another. Good luck getting that kind of compassion in Texas, a state where people scalp tickets to executions.

#168,043: Payton had the Super Bowl Shuffle. They danced, they rapped, they made winning fun. Smith and the Cowboys? They make winning about as much fun as wearing a cheese grater for a jock strap.

#567,001: Payton had Mike Ditka for a coach, the kind of guy that could kill a cougar with his bare hands. Smith had Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, and Dave Campo, the kind of guys that spent prom night at the arcade with Ms. Pacman and a pocketful of a quarters.

#881,374: Sweetness represented the end of the golden era of smashmouth football. You practiced, you played and you kept your mouth shut. Smith symbolizes the new NFL where cell phones and agents are more important than blocking down field and wrapping up your tackles.

I could go on, but I’ve already invested way too much time talking about Emmitt Smith. It’s just that when a record you see as a barrier between being good and being great gets broken by a man that couldn’t carry Walter Payton’s thigh pads, let alone his legacy, it just seems to weaken everything that is pure about the game.