Even Cowboys' Smith not immune to time's toll

ON THE NFL

October 05, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When the NFL owners passed that silly rule last March forbidding players from taking their helmets off on the field, it was immediately dubbed the Emmitt Smith rule.

That's because Smith had a habit of taking his helmet off when he scored a touchdown -- which he used to do frequently.

Going into this season, the Dallas Cowboys' running back had rushed for 108 touchdowns, the third-highest total ever.

Believe it or not, Smith hasn't run for a single touchdown in the first four games this season, so he hasn't had a chance to take off his helmet to celebrate.

This week, the Cowboys finally admitted the obvious.

Smith is part of the team's problem. It's not just the offensive line or that teams are stopping the run with the blitz.

The 2,334 carries he had in his first seven seasons -- plus 318 more in the playoffs -- have finally taken their toll. Smith is no longer the battering ram he once was.

Coach Barry Switzer said he'll now spell Smith on occasion with Sherman Williams, starting with today's game against the New York Giants.

"You lose speed as you get older, no question about it. Father Time gets everybody," Switzer said.

"I've talked to Emmitt about this. I told him there would be times I think it would help to give him a break, because I want him fresher in the fourth quarter. If he's had a long series, been out there on a 10- or 12-play drive, then we ought to spell him. We've got to be smart about it."

Smith, who said last year when his touchdown total dropped from 25 to 12 that he hadn't lost a step, didn't argue with Switzer. He even admitted he's not the runner he was from 1991 to '95.

"That was the old days. We're dealing with new times now," he said.

This doesn't mean he's finished. His 335-yard rushing total is still seventh in the NFC, ahead of Ricky Watters, Terry Allen and Warrick Dunn. But he has more carries than Jim Brown did when he retired after nine seasons. Only one player, Walter Payton with 3,838, has carried more than 3,000 times in the regular season.

Smith is running out of carries, so the team will try to ration them.

Older, but wiser?

George Young, the embattled general manager of the New York Giants, has an answer to the critics who say he's too old and out of touch.

Young, 67, noted that Winston Churchill was 66 when he became prime minister of England in 1940.

That's what he told a New York Times columnist last week who raised the question of whether it was time for Young to step down.

"If our record were 3-1 [it's 2-3], I'd be a lot younger," Young said. "We're in a profession that as you get older, you get dumber."

Young's real problem is probably that he's too stubborn. The Baltimore native still won't admit he made a mistake when he drafted quarterback Dave Brown. He remains a strong Brown defender, even though Brown's erratic play keeps hampering the team.

The only thing Brown hasn't lost is arrogance. Because Saints coach Mike Ditka used to criticize him in his TV days, Brown pointed at the Saints' bench when he passed for two touchdown passes in a 14-9 win last Sunday.

After the game, he said of Ditka: "He's just another ex-Dallas assistant coach who thinks he knows it all. He's like a lot of older coaches in the league now who aren't winning any games, a bunch of know-it-alls.

"Look at their records. What have they won lately? They think they know so much because of their past link to the game, but football has changed and they haven't. They sit there and criticize me, but what have they done lately?"

Brown also was referring to ex-Giants coach Dan Reeves, who is 0-5 in Atlanta.

The trouble with knocking Ditka is that he fires back.

Ditka started out: "He's right. What can I say? Not to be critical of Dave Brown -- who is a very average football player that we made look better than he was -- but what am I going to say: That he's a great football player?"

Ditka was just warming up. "I criticized him royally because he deserved it," he said. "He was the reason Dan is now in Atlanta; terrible football player last year."

The Giants could have a solution to the Brown problem this week. He has a chest injury and didn't practice much last week, but says he can play today against the Cowboys. The injury, though, might give coach Jim Fassel an easy way to switch to Danny Kanell and find out if he can play.

If the Giants get another quarterback, Young might seem a lot younger.

Legal file

You need a program to keep track of all the legal action going on in the NFL. In the latest bizarre twist, the city of Oakland, Calif., sued the Raiders last week, apparently worried that owner Al Davis might try to bolt town again.

The problem with suing the Raiders is that their attorney, the flamboyant 81-year-old former mayor of San Francisco, Joe Alioto, is quick to file a countersuit.

"We have never sued anybody, but we counterclaim and everybody who has ever sued the Raiders has lost to our counterclaim," he said. He's turned suing the NFL into a cottage industry.

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