The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August, when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player from each season.
Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.
The series continues today with 1991 and running back Emmitt Smith.
Name: Emmitt Smith
Position: Running Back
Cowboys Tenure: 1990-2002
Why Him? This one is easy. Emmitt Smith is arguably the greatest player in franchise history, and obviously the most decorated running back the Cowboys have ever had. He's one of the best backs in NFL history, especially when it comes to starts. As the all-time leading rusher, Smith owns a special place in the record books with his 18,355 rushing yards, a mark that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon, if ever. He arrived on the scene in 1990 as the third and most important part of the Triplets, joining Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. Smith's emergence put the Cowboys over the top and helped them win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. He won three straight rushing titles, starting in 1991, and in 1993, Smith had one of the finest seasons of any player in franchise history. After holding out the first two games in a well-publicized contract dispute, he returned to not only win a third straight rushing title, but was named NFL MVP and then won MVP honors in Super Bowl XXVIII. When it was all said and done, Smith surpassed Walter Payton for the all-time rushing record in 2002, his last season with the Cowboys. He made eight Pro Bowls, was a first-team All-Pro selection four times and had 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1990-2001. His 164 rushing touchdowns also rank No. 1 in league history.
The Role: This will be exactly the same role he had from the minute he arrived in 1990 to the day he was released in 2002 – the starting tailback. Smith backed u
p no one in his career and that won't change even with this Ultimate 53-man roster. While he didn't possess blazing breakaway speed, he had his share of long runs. What made him so tough, though, was his ability to pick up yards in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He was able to extend drives and close out games with the way he picked up first downs. On this roster, or any roster for that matter, Smith is the featured back.
Back To The Future: No one should be compared to Emmitt Smith, not until they win a few rushing titles, lead the team to the Super Bowl and rack up consistent 1,000-yard seasons. The Cowboys haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Julius Jones 2006, so that would be a start. But if there is a back who might be headed in a similar direction as Smith, it'd likely be DeMarco Murray. The second-year back flashed potential as a possible superstar last year as a rookie. Murray broke Smith's single-game rushing record of 237 yards (1993 at Philadelphia) when he ripped through the Rams' defense for 253 yards in his first game with significant carries. Murray needs to have a knack for the goal line such as Smith, but he's a young back full of potential. There is no way any player should be mentioned in the same breath as Smith right now, but the closest thing the Cowboys have to a superstar back seems to be on the shoulders of one DeMarco Murray.