Emmitt Smith hangs it up
By Darren Urban, Tribune
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The tears flowed, like everyone knew they would.
And when Emmitt Smith sat down to announce his retirement Thursday, he had two Dallas Cowboys helmets in front of him and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sitting next to him.
"You donít know how much this star really means to me," a crying Smith said as he touched the Cowboysí logo while a group of former Cowboys teammates lined the far wall.
Emmitt Smith was always a Dallas Cowboy. That was the basis of his farewell press conference.
But there were also tears and plenty of thanks for the Arizona Cardinals. And perhaps that wasnít expected.
Emmitt Smith wasnít the real Emmitt Smith by the time he got to Arizona. His speed had abandoned him and the talent surrounding him was limited. He was the NFLís all-time leading rusher in name only.
"Hopefully I was a blessing to them," Smith said, speaking of the Bidwill family. "Hopefully I did all the things they thought I could do for them."
He didnít, of course. He didnít take the Cardinals to the playoffs. He didnít sell more tickets. Maybe he set the team back when he was signed two years ago.
But Smith was also the one who pulled the Cardinals out of a hole this year after fellow running back Marcel Shipp got hurt and Josh Scobey bombed.
The Cardinals helped Smith make his final decision. Smith, who wanted to play another season, went to the team and asked them if they would re-sign him.
The Cards, who never had any intention of bringing him back, declined.
Smith, who said he received some inquiries from other teams when his retirement news broke earlier this week, didnít want to uproot his family again in a quest to extend his career. Retirement was the only answer.
"It made this decision a whole lot easier," said Smith, who turns 36 in May.
Smith gained 937 yards in his final season, scored nine touchdowns, and, noted coach Dennis Green, likely would have surpassed 1,000 yards had ankle and toe injuries not slowed him late in the season. He was better than expected. But not enough.
Sure, these two years will become blips on the historical radar screen ó
"They are going to show the highlights when he was with the Cowboys because he didnít have any highlights when he was with the Cardinals," quipped former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman ó but they meant something to Smith.
That was clear Thursday.
He thanked Green, right at the start of a long list of names that took almost 10 minutes to get through, as Smith tried and failed to keep his composure. There were Pee-Wee coaches to thank, countless teammates, people from all stages of Smithís life.
In Tennessee, former Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis
was watching the press conference on television with other Titans coaches. He saw Smith read his name, stop, look into the cameras and say, "I love you, Dave."
"I felt a close connection to Emmitt Smith, and just because I was fired has no factor in that," McGinnis said by phone.
"To me, Emmitt Smith is the essence of the National Football League
. He is football royalty."
Smith didnít forget the Cardinalsí trainers. He named Shipp and Scobey and Anquan Boldin and L.J. Shelton and Leonard Davis and a whole host of Cardinals players.
He needled Jones, mentioning that his youngest son, E.J., is a Cardinals fan because he wasnít old enough to remember his daddy playing in Dallas.
"All he knows is that Cardinal bird," Smith said with a smile.
That will change.
Smith is headed back to Dallas, starting with another press conference to "officially" retire as a Cowboy. He must wait until his current contract expires March 1 so he can sign a ceremonial one-day deal with his former team.
"Your place with the Cowboys has always been secure," Jones told Smith, and itís certain that the Cardinalsí portion of Emmittís career will fade in everyoneís memories.
"It would be naive to think the best memories wouldnít be him running in the Super Bowl and running in touchdowns with the Cowboys," Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "I donít think itís a knock on Arizona. You have to understand what this is about."
It was about Emmitt Smith, an NFL icon, saying goodbye exactly how he wanted.
Contact Darren Urban by email, or phone (480) 898-6525