Missing 'Deuce Deuce' is getting to be serious problem in Cowboy camp PRO FOOTBALL

August 24, 1993|By Don Pierson | Don Pierson,Chicago Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas -- The world champion Dallas Cowboys train at St. Emmitt's -- er, St. Edward's University. Excuse them if Emmitt Smith is on their minds.

"We're not as good a football team without Emmitt. We're not, and we won't be. It's a very simple deal," coach Jimmy Johnson said.

Smith is unsigned. The Cowboys' owner, Jerry Jones, has turned over negotiations to an underling, providing the appearance he has washed his hands of the matter. But Smith's teammates recognize Jones' fingerprints and aren't amused by the signals he is sending.

"It bothers you because you see a lot of guys looking around saying, 'What do you have to do to get treated great around here?' " receiver Michael Irvin said.

Great is a relative matter, of course. Jones is willing to pay his 24-year-old running back about $2.25 million a year. Not great enough, claims Smith, who sees the curve increasing to the $3.375-per-year deal signed recently by Buffalo's Thurman Thomas, who gets $4 million the first year.

Smith remembers his Super Bowl wipeout of Thomas and the Bills. Smith remembers two NFL rushing titles in a row in only his second and third seasons as a pro. Smith sees a salary cap on the horizon. So Smith did the only thing an intelligent, young unemployed person might do: He enrolled for fall classes at the University of Florida.

"I wonder if he signed up for Career Opportunity Day," Johnson mused.

In mid-August, when the games mean little, Johnson can afford to be funny. On Sept. 6, when the Cowboys open on Monday night in Washington, only Redskins coach Richie Petitbon will be smiling.

The Cowboys, who are inquiring about a trade for Los Angeles Rams runner Cleveland Gary to protect themselves, are lining up in the backfield with Derrick Lassic, Michael Beasley, Judd Garrett and E.D. Jackson. Yo, Joe Brodsky, running backs coach, how much of a dropoff in talent does that represent?

"Ridiculous question," Brodsky said.

Added Irvin: "Make no mistake about it; it will be pure hell without deuce-deuce. We need deuce-deuce. We need deuce-deuce bad. Real bad."

Jones contention is that No. 22 is like any other red-blooded professional athlete in at least one respect he won't miss a game check. But Smith already has demonstrated resolve in money matters. As a rookie, he waited until two days before the start of the season to sign and played in the opener.

"If he signs 30 seconds before kickoff, we can stick him in there and hand him the ball 30 times," Irvin said.

Although it would be hard to believe Jones would want to open defense of his Super Bowl title without his most vital weapon, the question haunting the Cowboys now is whether the hassle isn't already doing damage. Irvin, Smith's good friend and a late signee last summer, fervently believes it "already has."

"Here's what players think," Irvin said. "What good does it do me to go out and give 200 percent every day? You still have to go through this. I thought only mediocre players would have to go through this.

"You come out and prove yourself and they'll take care of you. If you're a salesman working on commission and go out and do a great job, you make more money. But what does it make me to go out and be the best in the league? What's my reward?"

The Redskins and other chasers of the Cowboys gloat at the predicament. They recognize themselves and every other defending Super Bowl champion in the problems of the Cowboys. A year ago, coming off a Super Bowl triumph, the Redskins were dickering with quarterback Mark Rypien and had to travel to Dallas for their Monday night opener. The upstart Cowboys laid the Redskins out 23-10 to begin both their own Super Bowl odyssey and the Redskins' frustrating year. This time, the Redskins see the tables reversed.

Smith gave Jones an opportunity to avoid this scene early last season when he approached the owner and said he would extend his contract for "Barry Sanders money." That's when Sanders' $1.79 million-a-year deal was the standard and Sanders was the popular choice as the top running back. Jones chose to wait. When he tried to take Smith up on the offer later in the year, Smith decided he now wanted "Emmitt Smith money."

The Thurman Thomas money only exacerbated the situation and now threatens to trap Jones in his own net.

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