Heading into his 13th season, 33-year-old Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith, sits squarely between two of the greatest running backs of all time — Walter Payton (16,726) and Barry Sanders (15,269) — with 16,187 total yards rushing. Odds are this season he will streak past his own hero and claim the title as man with the most yards on the ground.
AW: How do you feel about your chances of reaching Payton’s record?
ES: A lot of teammates, coaches, family, and other special people contributed to whatever success I’ve been able to enjoy. Being associated with Walter Payton — in any form of comparison — is the greatest honor that I think an NFL player can receive. To me, Walter Payton is the consummate father, family man, and dedicated professional. Even if I’m able to pass him on the rushing list, I will always be striving to achieve the standards that he set as a man.
AW: So was Payton your favorite player when you were growing up?
ES: The two players I loved to watch were Tony Dorsett and Walter Payton. Tony was just a brilliant running back. Walter had a different style — more stops and starts. I also admired the way his career developed with his team. In the early stages of his career, the Bears were not very good, but Walter was always dependable. He never complained, and he never missed games.
— JAMES E. MAYFIELD