Skip to main content

Spagnola: The Truth Behind Emmitt-Less Losses


FRISCO, Texas – Will he or won't he?

Only Zeke knows for sure.

So there has been another flurry of reports surfacing over the past couple of days insisting Ezekiel Elliott is on his way back home from Cabo and preparing to end his holdout by signing a long-term extension.

Stay our beating hearts that a guy scheduled to make $224,000 a week for 17 weeks this 2019 season and who will eventually pocket a double-digit, million-dollar signing bonus two years before the Cowboys would lose control of his initial rookie contract, and theoretically, three years away since the Cowboys could franchise him in 2021, would decide he's playing this year.

This is exactly why I've never thought Zeke would miss games this 2019 season, and all along why I've insisted the economic fallout of this entire situation would finally knock some common sense into the situation.

Nobody gives up money in their hand, and should they, they never make it up. Guarantee you the Jets didn't tell Le'Veon Bell, you know, we realize you forfeited that guaranteed $14 million franchise tag tender in 2018 from the Steelers because you wanted out, so here, feel sorry for you big guy, we'll just stuff another $14 million into your deal.

Well, a guy today at the health club challenged me on my logic, saying Emmitt Smith held out in 1993, and not until the Cowboys lost the first two games of the season did Cowboys owner Jerry Jones get a deal done with the 1992 NFL rushing champ.

So it made me think: You know, the Cowboys lost nine games with Emmitt his rookie season. They lost five games in 1991 with Emmitt in Year 2. And as hard as it might be to believe, during that Super Bowl-winning 1992 season the Cowboys really did lose three games. Seriously, witnessed all three of them: at Philadelphia, the Eagles waxing them, 35-16; home to the LA Rams, 27-23, when Troy Aikman threw two incomplete passes from the LA 14 within the final six seconds of the game; and then at Washington when first Troy Aikman from the Redskins five was sacked, fumbled into the end zone, a ball that Emmitt recovered and in his effort to get the ball out of the end zone fumbled himself, allowing the Redskins to recover for what turned out to be the winning touchdown with 3:14 left in the game.

But somehow, Emmitt's absence those first two games in the 1993 season was the so-called reason everyone seems to remember for the Cowboys losing both of those and causing a frustrated and naturally volatile Charles Haley to plant his helmet into the locker room entrance drywall at Texas Stadium. Somehow the blame rested on rookie running back Derrick Lassic, a fourth-round pick from Alabama, for not being able to pick up the NFL rushing champ's slack.

Seriously, with the likes of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Daryl Johnston, Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Mark Stepnoski, Mark Tuinei, Alvin Harper, Haley, Ken Norton, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith, Jim Jeffcoat, Tony Casillas, Larry Brown and Thomas Everett all playing in those two games?

Well, allow me to beg to differ.

First of all, we're talking the defending Super Bowl champs. Second of all, the starting lineup in those two games was basically the same as those of the Super Bowl champs no more than eight months ago, including 10 guys on their way to the Pro Bowl that '93 season.

Pretty lame to blame a 35-16 season-opening loss to the Redskins at RFK and a 13-10 home loss to a Buffalo team they had smoked 52-17 to win Super Bowl XXVII that same year on Jan. 31 on not having Emmitt. Shame on any of us who might have fell for that b.s.

Take the Washington loss, providing new head coach Richie Petitbon his debut coaching win on a nationally-televised Monday night game, one of just four wins in his only season at the Redskins head coach. Come on, the NFL's No. 1 defense from 1992, with basically the same starting lineup, giving up 35 points, the most since losing to the Rams, 35-31, in Game 13 of the 1-15 season of 1989, 51 games ago. The No. 1 rushing defense from 1992 giving up 116 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns to Washington running back Brian Mitchell. Fumbling the ball five times, losing four. The defense allowing the Redskins to drive after cutting their lead to 21-13 a robust 99 yards for the put-away touchdown.

Yet, Lassic rushing for 75 yards on 16 carries was the reason they lost?

Come on now.

Then in Game 2, with Lassic rushing 19 times for 52 yards, an offense totaling 393 yards, Aikman passing for 290, Irvin and Novacek each catching eight passes for a grand total of 221 yards, and the Cowboys only score 10 points to lose?

Sure thing, because the Cowboys lost two fumbles, one, yes, by Lassic and a second muffed punt in two games by rookie punt returner Kevin Williams – both leading to Bills field goals, the second after the Cowboys rallied from a 10-0 deficit to tie the game with 6:51 left. And then with 2:42 left, the Cowboys drive 67 yards to a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 17 with 45 seconds left and out of timeouts, a Derrick Gainer six-yard run moving the ball to the 10, and with the Cowboys snapping the ball with 10 seconds left in the game, Aikman's throw to Novacek in the end zone is intercepted, his second of the game.

And that's how the Cowboys became the first team to start a season 0-2 yet win a Super Bowl.

By the way, with Emmitt signing first thing the next week, the Cowboys would only defeat Phoenix at Sun Devil Stadium, 17-10, in Game 3, Emmitt carrying the ball eight times for 45 yards and Lassic having his best day as a pro, going 17 for 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns (eight and two yards).

The key for the defending Super Bowl champs who piled up 410 yards offense with Aikman throwing for 281?

Ah ha, no turnovers, after turning the ball over an unthinkable eight times in the first two games – four and four, only one of those charged to poor Lassic.

Their 1993 fourth-round pick, an All-SEC running back at Alabama who was the 1993 Sugar Bowl MVP in Bama's National Championship game win over Miami, would spend only two seasons with the Cowboys, the second coming to an end after suffering a torn knee ligament during the 1994 preseason and eventually ending up on injured reserve.

Just a shame the kid is always remembered as the running back who couldn't take over for Emmitt Smith, since Haley chose to scream as helmet was going into wall, "We can't win with this rookie."

Sure the Cowboys after the 0-2 start would win seven straight games after Emmitt was signed, and went on to a 12-4 regular-season record and back-to-back Super Bowl championships. But for my money, the Cowboys were suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, thinking all they had to do was roll out there and opponents would just play dead. A 52-17 Super Bowl victory will create such delusions.

They had forgotten during that 13-win season in '92 they won four games by no more than seven points.

My guess is, either Zeke signs by time the Cowboys begin preparation for the season opener against the Giants or he shows up with an understanding the contract will get done.

If not, and he's the only essential guy missing from last year's team going 7-1 down the stretch and winning a playoff game, and if the Cowboys should get off to a sluggish start, don't go blaming, uh, the running back drafted in the fourth round 26 years after Lassic in 1993 – Tony Pollard.


Related Content