In covering this team for nearly 25 years now, one of my favorite sentences usually starts with something like:
"Oh, that was the game ..."
It doesn't really matter if it was a big game, playoff game, preseason game or something in between, most games have something – anything – that makes it memorable.
And then there's Oct. 27, 2002. Cowboys vs. Seahawks.
That game had EVERYHING ... and yet you probably remember none of it ... except of course, that one play.
But seriously, if you really think about it, this 20-year-old game had a handful of things that would fill up the columns, the phone lines and the twittershpere in today's world.
- Oh, that was the game the Cowboys decided to bench their quarterback of the future and turn to their other quarterback of the future – the one they got from Major League Baseball.
- Oh, that was the game the most underrated player in team history actually broke the Cowboys all-time record for tackles.
- Oh, that was the game that same player leveled a Seattle receiver so hard over the middle, that he received a whopping $75,000 fine.
- And yeah, that was the game that same Seattle receiver had a seizure in the shower after the game and had to be taken to the hospital.
- Oh, and that was the game, former Seattle receiver Joey Galloway caught a long touchdown against his former team, making a play that seemingly gave the Cowboys a chance to win this historic game. Yet, it wasn't enough as the Seahawks prevailed, 17-14 at old Texas Stadium.
Imagine, one single play that could ultimately trump all of that!
And that should tell you just how impressive, how iconic and how memorable it was to see Emmitt Smith pass Walter Payton as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
"Move over Sweetness, make a place for Emmitt."
That was radio announcer Brad Sham's epic call after the play. I've never actually asked Brad if he prepared to say that actual line before the game. Knowing Brad, he probably didn't, but then again, it was a delicate situation, considering the fact Emmitt had bonded with Walter Payton before he passed away in 1999, and then had such a close relationship with his family.
Emmitt always had so much respect for Walter Payton, that I'm sure Brad Sham wanted to say just right words when announcing this high achievement.
What I also remember about the play was that Emmitt Smith needed 10 yards and he got 11, barely to break the record. They stopped the game and Emmitt hugged everyone from his teammates, his family to Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnston.
But on the next play, Smith nearly lost the record, when he was tackled for a 1-yard loss. How awkward was that going to be?
Either way, he eventually got enough breathing room where it was quite obvious the record was his for good. Now, 20 years later, will it ever be broken?
That's the question that often gets asked and while some player like Adrian Peterson or LaDainian Tomlinson appear to provide a threat at some point in their careers, something seems to happen that slows their course.
That's what is amazing about Emmitt Smith. That never happened to him – not for 15 seasons at least.
Being awesome was Emmitt's best trait, in my opinion. Being available was his second-best. And when you add the two together, you get the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
Oh, as for those other things that happened on Oct. 27:
- The Cowboys benched Quincy Carter for Chad Hutchinson at quarterback earlier that week. The kid known as "Chutch" got his first start and he flashed a few big plays there, he didn't win the game. Eventually, Carter got the job back the following year.
- Darren Woodson – who is definitely my favorite player of all-time, fittingly broke the Cowboys' all-time tackles record that day, surpassing Lee Roy Jordan (1,236 tackles). He was the most overshadowed player of all-time, so of course, he breaks the Cowboys' record on a day that Emmitt Smith breaks the NFL record. But why we love Woodson so much is that when you asked him what he remembers the most about that day, he'll tell you two words: We lost.
- Woodson should probably remember the fine the NFL gave him after his huge hit on Seattle's Darrell Jackson, who had complications in the locker room after the game and had to be hospitalized. Jackson turned out to be Ok, but Woodson showed why he was one of the NFL's fiercest hitters, especially over the middle.
So much happened that day. To me, it was forgettable but I'm sure to most, they're just sidenotes on a day that will always be remembered for Emmitt Smith's record.
That might change if the record ever gets broken. The way the game is played these days with the running back committees and much more passing, I find it difficult to think any running back is going to be good enough, stay healthy enough and simply play long enough to ever break Emmitt's record.
But if it happens, I definitely want to pay attention to those "other" storylines that most definitely be overlooked.