Smith now set to chase Payton's number

On the NFL

August 18, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Football fans don't follow numbers the way baseball fans do.

Football, for example, has no comparable numbers to 2,130, 56 and .367.

This explains why football fans couldn't identify the number 16,726 the way baseball fans could identify 2,130 with Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games playing streak -- before Cal Ripken broke the record last season -- 56 with Joe DiMaggio's consecutive-game hitting streak and .367 with Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average.

But football fans may soon start to recognize 16,726 -- the career rushing yards total rolled up by Walter Payton.

Since Payton retired from the Bears in 1987, no one has made a serious run at it. Eric Dickerson is a distant second at 13,259.

That's about to change. Emmitt Smith is ready to take a run at it.

The eight-year mega-buck contract Smith signed with the Cowboys last week guaranteed he'll finish his career with the team and he already has 8,956 yards in six years for 13th place on the all-time list.

"That's definitely one goal," Smith said of the rushing record. "My body feels fine. I feel like I have another eight years in me."

The odds are still against Smith because he's averaged 334.5 carries a season. Payton, who played 13 years, averaged 295.2. Those extra 34 carries a year could cause Smith to burn out earlier than Payton did. After all, only six players in NFL history have had 1,000-yard seasons at age 31 or over.

It's going to be interesting to see Smith take a crack at it and that helps explain why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shelled out the money to ensure Smith plays out his career in Dallas. Jones is too much the showman to let Smith ever do it in another uniform.

Not that Jones paid as much as he made it sound he did. Jones made the grandiose announcement he was giving Smith a $15 million signing bonus.

When the contract was sent to the league office, the bonus was actually $10.5 million. In the fine print, Smith could take $15 million if it were spread over 20 years.

If Smith wanted his money sooner, he had to take $10.5 million, which he did. But the $15 million announcement gave Jones one more chance to annoy his peers.

Coach Vince Tobin of the Arizona Cardinals said, "It seems like some people have the same rules and tend to get around them. The league ought to be run where everyone is playing under the same rules. All you want as a coach is a level playing field."

In Green Bay, where the Packers are a community-owned team and have about $20 million in the bank, president Bob Harlan said of Jones, "I can't imagine anybody doing that except the guy who did it."

But Jones didn't start the manipulation of the cap. Back in 1992, he let Smith sit out for two games before he gave him $13.6 million for four years, which barely topped a contract Thurman Thomas had just signed with Buffalo to become the highest paid running back.

Once Jones saw the league wasn't going to stop teams from exploiting loopholes in the bargaining agreement, Jones decided play that game, too. When it comes to playing games with money, Jones is at the head of the class.

That's why he made sure that if Smith breaks Payton's record, he's going to do it with a star on his helmet.

The divorce

Art Modell and Cleveland are like a couple who went through a bitter divorce and can't resist taking parting shots at each other.

When the Ravens owner did an interview with Roy Firestone on ESPN a week ago, he defended his move from Cleveland and said, "I've never told a lie in my whole life."

They weren't going to let that pass in Cleveland, where they haven't forgotten that Modell once said he'd never move the team.

Modell's old nemesis, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer newspaper, wasn't going to leave that for the sports pages, either. On the editorial page last Sunday, there was a cartoon with a TV showing an ESPN promo that the Modell interview was next.

The caption showed a voice from the TV saying, "The following may contain outrageous lies, distortions and graphic scenes of Ravens uniforms. Parental guidance is strongly suggested."

The lead editorial was on the subject and it started with, "There are lies and damned lies and then there's whatever comes out of the mouth of Art Modell."

It concluded, "Poor Art Modell. He knows now that he'll never be in the Hall of Fame and that he can never set foot in Ohio again, but there's some consolation. He's got a lifetime membership in the liars' club."

Praising Baltimore

For the paranoid Baltimore fans who are tired of Cleveland getting all the sympathy, here's some soothing words written in Dallas by football writer Rick Gosselin: "It's too bad the NFL didn't have the foresight in 1984 to allow the city of Baltimore to keep its colors and logos when the Colts moved to Indianapolis as the league did for Cleveland. Baltimore was too good an NFL city for too long ever to lose its team. A wrong has been righted in 1996."

Remembering Chicago

Jim Harbaugh, who found a second career in Indianapolis, still obviously hasn't forgotten that coach Dave Wannstedt got rid of him in Chicago.

When Harbaugh heard reports that Wannstedt wasn't high on two former Bears who signed with the Colts as free agents, Troy Auzenne and Jay Leeuwenburg, Harbaugh said, "I told Jay and Troy, 'Don't worry about it. Dave Wannstedt is not the best judge of talent.' I said 'I wouldn't let it hurt your feelings because his track record isn't the best.' "

Wannstedt's reply: "I wish him the best."

Selling tickets

After 12,851 fans attended the preseason opener for the lame-duck Houston Oilers last week, the team's radio announcer, Tom Franklin, said: "The Oilers were so desperate for fans they offered Michael Irvin four hours of community service if he'd show up."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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