There is a quote from a 9th Century Japanese writer I read once that says "I have always known that at the last I would have to take this path. Yesterday I did not know that it would be today."
One of the greatest -- if not the greatest running back in the history of the NFL, Emmitt Smith, has called it a career. While he finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals, my most poignant memory is of him in a Dallas Cowboys uniform -- against the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 1994.
Emmitt was the kind of runner that punished people. Short, thick, fast as a barracuda and just as dangerous, he would find the hole and blast past defenders before they even knew he had the ball. His legs reminded me of the levers on a steam engine -- always pumping and always moving forward. His shoulder pads made trying to tackle him like trying to tackle a boulder with a head. And he did it with an electric smile that made him hard to hate, even if you were his arch rival.
Number 22 earned every one of the 18,355 yards he ran for. He is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time list with 21,579 career yards and 179 touchdowns. I have followed only a couple of NFL teams since childhood -- one was the Washington Redskins and the other was the Pittsburgh Steelers. While with Dallas, Emmitt found a away to frustrate the hopes of both of them on a consistent basis.
He -- along with Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and the rest of the Cowboys -- captured three SuperBowl titles during his career. One of them was in Atlanta over Buffalo. As a journalist, you're not supposed to cheer for the teams on the field, but I couldn't help standing up and yelling when Emmitt broke free for a long gain in that game.
He ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns and won the Super Bowl MVP for that season. In his farewell press conference, Emmitt said he has given all he can to the game both on and off the field. What he has earned -- from me and thousands of others -- is R-E-S-P-E-C-T.