Well, it's been quite the week interview-wise here at For The Record. A day after catching up with Barry Sanders, I chatted with Emmitt Smith, who was promoting his involvement with Mended Hearts to raise awareness about heart disease risk factors.
Smith, who was with his wife, Pat, when I spoke to him, pulled no punches when talking about his place in history, the current state of the Cowboys and if anyone will touch his all-time rushing record.
SI.com: You played with a lot of heart Emmitt, but I understand that you didn't partner with Mended Hearts because of that old analogy.
Smith: Yeah, my mom and my wife's father were both diagnosed with heart disease a couple years ago. We went through this traumatic experience with them and were quickly made aware of some of the risk factors of heart disease. That's why I've partnered with Mended Hearts -- to get more aware and have a better understanding of what heart disease is all about. I was actually recently diagnosed with high cholesterol so I'm trying to get that under wraps and get healthy again.
Pat Smith: That's right. I've pretty much put myself in the position of head coach in our family and set up a game plan in terms of eating better, exercising and going to the doctor on a regular basis.
SI.com: I'm sure Emmitt doesn't mind you playing head coach, Pat. Speaking of your playing days Emmitt, you're the last player to win the rushing title three straight seasons (1991-1993). Are you surprised no one has done it in the past 15 years? In fact, no one has even won consecutive rushing titles since 2000.
Smith: That's interesting. I've seen a change in the NFL because defensive schemes are becoming more sophisticated and offenses are starting to rotate the backs where each team has a two-running back attack. I've also noticed that offenses are starting to throw the ball more. There's a lot more spread offenses than there were before. There's even more spread offenses this year than there were last year, where running backs aren't getting 25 carries anymore. Defenses are also hitting harder, too. It's hard to keep guys healthy.
SI.com: You're the all-time leading rusher in NFL history, have more rushing touchdowns than any player and hold every meaningful postseason record for a tailback. But for some reason, when people talk about the greatest running backs of all time, your name is usually placed behind Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Do you think you're accomplishments have been underappreciated?
Smith: Yeah, when you look at the names that you mentioned, I often times get credited for having a great offensive line, Troy Aikman at quarterback, Michael Irvin at wide receiver, Jay Novacek at tight end. People look at that and say that I had an unfair advantage. But at the end of the day, its longevity that gets you to where you need to be at. Whether or not that offensive line was there when I broke the record, which they were not, whether Troy was there, which he was not, whether Michael or Jay were there, which they were not. These guys weren't there. So, yeah, it is somewhat unfair but it is what it is. It isn't up to me to make that decision as to who's the best. I can't convince people of what I did on the football field and how great that may be. That's their job.
SI.com: Emmitt, this current Cowboys team has 13 Pro Bowlers and they went 13-3 last year. They've been hit by some injuries, but do you see any comparison when this team gets healthy to the teams you played on? You guys didn't always run over the competition. In 1993, the Cowboys were 7-4 before going on to win the Super Bowl.
Smith: No, I don't see any comparison. None at all. As a matter of fact, it's not close. I'm not trying to be biased toward the teams I played on, but this team might be more talented than our teams were. But it's not how talented you are, it's what you do with that talent that's really, truly important. One thing about our ball club, as talented as it was, and we were pretty talented, we played together. We yin and we yanged, the offense played for the defense and the defense played for the offense and special teams helped us out too. We had a complete team concept. That's not the case with the Dallas Cowboys today. I mean we have players down there now who think everything must go through them and that's unfair for the other 50 or so players. The Cowboys of today have great talent but they still have to get past the first round of the playoffs if they can even get there. If they win a championship maybe I'll say something differently but until they get on the same page from a team concept standpoint I'm not sure they'll ever get there.
SI.com: You've said this team doesn't have a true leader and that is one of its biggest problems, is that something you think can change during a season? Do you think there are any true leaders on that team?
Smith: You know, when you think about the New England Patriots and you think about everything that they've done the past five years, they have a number of leaders on both sides of the ball. They have experienced veterans who have all played together and a veteran quarterback who was just as inspirational as a linebacker, defensive back or offensive lineman. When you look at teams, you look for those kinds of qualities. Look at the New York Giants last year. As poorly as they played at times during the season, you saw Michael Strahan as a leader on defense and you saw an offense that was mediocre come together and play inspired football for one another. The offense fed off the defense because the offense didn't want to let the defense down. It was the same way when we played and won our three Super Bowls. When I look at the current Cowboys team I don't see that kind of leadership. Sometimes leadership comes from a style of play and it's not vocal. Sometimes you have a guy running up and down the sidelines like Aikman shouting at his offensive line because they're not blocking up front and inspiring them. Sometimes you have a wide receiver like Irvin going up and doing the same thing to the offensive line. Telling them that you guys have to get it together and protect the quarterback so he can throw the ball. It's a combination of those things. What I loved to hear when I was playing was the defense saying, we're going to get you the ball back because we want to see you run the football. That's not the case with the current Cowboys team. That could be a reflection of the head coach, it could be the offensive coordinator, I don't know, but when you start talking about the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s and the Cowboys there's no comparison.
SI.com: Do you think the Cowboys need more of a disciplinarian head coach like Jimmy Johnson. It seems that Wade Phillips is more of a players coach like Barry Switzer was.
Smith: Well, I don't know if they need a disciplinarian coach. At some point when you have experienced players at some point maturity should set in and the Cowboys have some guys on that team that could be the leaders everyone expects them to be but they're not acting like that right now. Now, Wade is someone I would consider to be a player's coach very similar to Barry, which is a good thing if you have a mature ball club, but I don't think this team is mature yet. They're not a disciplined team. They don't understand what it takes to win ball games yet.
SI.com: So many teams are using a two tailback rotation now. Even the Cowboys have that with Marion Barber and Felix Jones. With running backs getting less carries than they used to, do you think anyone has a chance to beat your rushing record? I just don't see anyone getting enough carries to do it.
Smith: Someone is going to have to do something extra special to break the record because a special man set the record that I broke. When you're talking about Walter Payton, you're talking about a special individual and it will take a lot to break the record and I'm not sure that it will happen.
SI.com: How has your life been after football? Everyone saw you on Dancing with the Stars and sees you on ESPN and I know you get a lot of grief about that, but how has it been for you?
Smith: It's been fun for me. It's been great working with ESPN and doing Dancing with the Stars as well as having my real estate business. The transition from football for me was something I was looking forward to. There were some things I really needed to do. After working out and training for 15 years it would have been impossible not to do anything. It would have been catastrophic to my body and I would have deteriorated if I had nothing to do. So while I'm young and still in great shape, I need to keep myself in great physical shape because I have four beautiful kids, a beautiful wife and I want to be around for a while and hopefully see them go off to college and do whatever they want to do whether that's play sports or be a doctor or a lawyer. I want to be around to see that so I'm just trying to stay healthy.
SI.com: Finally, you're going to be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. When you saw Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin get inducted, did you think about what that feeling is going to be like for you?
Smith: It's going to be like the period at the end of a sentence. You start off a sentence with a capital letter and you might have some commas or whatever in between but the period says the sentence has come to a complete end. For me, that's exactly what the Hall of Fame would signify as an NFL player's career standpoint. I gave the game all I could possibly give and played the best I could for a long period of time. I played at a high level and played with the character and passion that the game deserved so I'm happy, content, pleased and satisfied with what I was able to accomplish.