Emmitt Smith hopes fans cheer their appreciation, not their goodbyes - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Emmitt Smith hopes fans cheer their appreciation, not their goodbyes

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IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Emmitt Smith figures there are two ways of interpreting the Dallas Cowboys' request that fans wear No. 22 jerseys to the home finale Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The conspiracy theorist thinks the team is subtly saying this is the last chance to see Smith with a star on his helmet because he won't be back with the Cowboys next season.

The other view, which Smith prefers, is that the team wants fans to congratulate him for becoming the leading rusher in NFL history and to try lifting everyone's spirits as they close yet another disappointing season.

``We've been through quite a bit,'' Smith said. ``Just say, `We appreciate how hard y'all have worked all year long and we understand y'all have been in some adverse situations, but you've hung in there and you've fought, and you're doing the best you can.' Period.

``That's a great way of looking at it, versus look at it that this is my last (home) game.''

Smith is owed $7 million next season, virtually guaranteeing his contract will be torn up. Team owner Jerry Jones has been tightlipped about whether he'll release the NFL's all-time leading rusher or try signing him to a new deal, possibly for as little as the veteran minimum.

Smith has made it clear he prefers to stay. After 13 seasons and two prolonged contract battles with Jones, remaining in Dallas is more important to him than cashing another big check.

``I can only think positively,'' Smith said. ``It's just a matter of communicating, talking about what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, how I can restructure and so forth.''

It might not be that easy. Jones is considering big changes and keeping a running back who will be 34 in May might not fit the new plans.

But that's a tough call when the running back is Emmitt Smith, a four-time rushing champion, three-time Super Bowl winner and former MVP of the regular season and Super Bowl.

Though no longer dominant, he's been effective this season. He needs 68 yards in the final two games to reach 1,000 for a 12th straight season, extending a record he set last year.

What to do with Smith is a tougher decision for Jones than the one he faced two seasons ago with Troy Aikman. Jones did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Aikman's frequent concussions made him a health risk, and he was due a huge bonus. While cutting him meant a big salary-cap hit in 2001, it was a blow that was going to happen eventually.

Smith, though, is in good health and willing to help the cap. And, unlike Aikman, Smith won't even consider retiring.

Smith might accept a reduced role, such as sharing carries with backup Troy Hambrick, or help groom a rookie; Dallas is likely to have a top 10 pick.

But Smith also has talked about wanting to stretch his career rushing total of 17,119 to 20,000. It's pretty likely some team will give him that chance if the Cowboys won't.

Could Smith really see himself wearing another uniform?

``I have uniforms at the house of all 32 teams and I've tried them all on,'' Smith said, smiling. ``You know I'm lying. Obviously I can't see myself doing a whole lot of things.

``Right now, it's not in the forefront. I have a big game to play Saturday, so that's my focus _ not this extracurricular stuff that has to take place six, seven, 12 weeks from now. That's my mindset. I'm not going to let anyone change it.''

If this is it for Smith as a Cowboy, playing one of his final games against Philadelphia provides a nostalgic farewell.

Smith has more yards rushing against the Eagles (2,436) than any other team, including a career-best 237-yard game. With 49 yards Saturday, he'll have the most one player has ever gained against one team.

Philadelphia (11-3) has won five straight and has already clinched a second consecutive NFC East title. The Eagles' motivation now is that winning the last two games guarantees home-field advantage.
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