Smith guts out a Cowboys title

January 03, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took two early losses for the Dallas Cowboys to realize how important Emmitt Smith was this season.

Yesterday, they rediscovered a basic truth that now seems inescapable: He, and not Troy Aikman, is their best money player.

"My heart is as big as the world," Smith said after the Cowboys outlasted the New York Giants, 16-13, on Eddie Murray's 41-yard field goal in overtime to win the NFC East title.

As bold as that might sound, no one in a record Giants Stadium crowd of 77,356 would have argued the point.

Taped up and fed two pain pills for a grade-one shoulder #F separation at halftime, Smith hit the jackpot for the defending Super Bowl champs: division title, home-field advantage in the playoffs, first-round bye and, on a personal note, his third straight rushing title.

Now comes the hard part -- winning in the postseason without the veteran running back, a distinct possibility in the wake of yesterday's costly victory.

Asked if he thought he could play in two weeks, Smith, wearing a sling on his right arm, said, "I really don't know. We'll have to wait and see. Let it nurse back to health. Hopefully, it'll feel good enough to play in two weeks."

Even the team trainer sounded an ominous note in what was otherwise a giddy Cowboys celebration.

"We think he has a shot to do that [play in two weeks]," said Kevin O'Neill. "We will work to get him there."

Smith described the pain as "unbelievable." On the field, his teammates needed only look at his face to get the picture.

"In the huddle, you could see his eyes watering," said wide receiver Alvin Harper. "I asked him how he felt, and he said, 'Man, you don't want to know.' "

Smith almost single-handedly carried the Cowboys downfield for their game-winning drive after they had squandered a 13-0 halftime lead and nearly the game in the fourth quarter. He got the ball on nine of 11 plays, including the last five before Murray's field goal. In a 52-yard drive, Smith accounted for 41.

Altogether, Smith rushed for 168 yards to finish with 1,486, 57 yards more than the Los Angeles Rams' Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 146 in a victory over Chicago. Smith pulled down 10 passes for 61 more yards and the Cowboys' only touchdown, a 5-yard catch in the second quarter.

For his courage, he almost certainly will collect the league's most valuable player award, as well.

On a day when receiver Michael Irvin was not a factor, and when Aikman completed only three passes to his wide receivers, the Cowboys (12-4) needed every precious yard Smith could give them.

The thought of playing without Smith was sobering at the least.

"If Emmitt goes out, it changes a lot of things, including possibly the outcome," said Norv Turner, the Cowboys offensive coordinator.

Smith amassed 109 rushing yards in the first half. The Cowboys' offense so thoroughly controlled the game that the Giants managed only five offensive plays in the first quarter and 15 in the half (compared to Dallas' 41).

Murray gave the Cowboys a 3-0, first-quarter lead with a 32-yard field goal. Smith's TD catch halfway through the second made it 10-0.

Then came the play that may bring the Cowboys back to the rest of the NFC in the postseason -- Smith's injury.

On third-and-two from his own 18, Smith scampered through a huge hole in the Giants' nickel defense. Strong safety Myron Guyton missed a tackle in the secondary, and 46 yards later, free safety Greg Jackson brought Smith down from behind.

Smith landed hard on his right shoulder, got up slowly, and went to the sidelines. He returned after two plays, but did not get the ball again in a drive that ended with a 38-yard Murray field goal.

"I didn't realize how bad it was until I got to the sideline," Smith said.

At halftime, the Cowboys put a harness and an Ace bandage around Smith's shoulder. He took two pain pills that had little effect.

He had 13 carries for 59 yards in the second half.

"The only thing that was going to bother me was direct shots and falling on it," he said. "Then I started losing a little range of motion. Some of the tosses were scary. I wasn't sure I could get my hands up."

Smith, who signed a $13.6 million, four-year contract after his bitter summer holdout, ran through his personal pain barrier, though.

"I talked to him two or three times throughout the game," coach Jimmy Johnson said. "We were going to play Lincoln [Coleman] some, but Emmitt said he wanted to finish the game and be the guy. . . . The guy is a tremendous competitor."

The Giants got back in the game in the second half with a comeback that was ignited by Kevin Williams' fumbled punt and fueled by the power running by Rodney Hampton (114 yards). But Smith delivered when the Cowboys needed it most.

A 1-yard scoring plunge by Jarrod Bunch and two David Treadwell field goals -- covering 29 and 31 yards -- earned the Giants a 13-13 tie. Treadwell's second kick came with 10 seconds left in regulation.

Hampton had first crack in the clash of premier running backs, but couldn't get the Giants past their own 32. Smith then sentenced the Giants to a wild-card game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Giants Stadium.

nTC Smith's 11-yard catch produced a first down at the Cowboys' 44. On third-and-one at the New York 37, he slashed for 3 yards and another first down.

From there, Smith carried 10 yards to the 24, and 1 to the 23. After he was stopped for no gain, Johnson opted for the field goal on third down. Murray's kick came with 4:16 remaining in overtime.

The Cowboys felt a debt of gratitude to Smith afterward.

"I went in the [training] room back there to talk to him about it," Irvin said. "He kept saying, 'We won, we won.'

"I said, 'No, you won it for us.' "

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