IRVING, Texas -- Emmitt Smith's latest milestone was an emotional one, once he realized it.
Smith passed Tony Dorsett to become fourth on the NFL's career rushing list with a 7-yard touchdown run in Dallas' 24-7 victory over Atlanta Monday night. Among the first to greet Smith on the sidelines was Dorsett, who was at the game to help celebrate the Cowboys' 40th anniversary.
"He said, `Congratulations,' and I said `Thank you,"' Smith said. "Then I kept on moving to go sit down. I didn't even realize what he was saying congratulations for."
Smith wasn't seated long when he heard the good news over the Texas Stadium loudspeaker. As fans cheered, he went back to Dorsett, hugged him and whispered a few words.
"I had to go tell him in his ear how much I greatly appreciate what he's done, the standards he has set," said Smith, who last season passed Dorsett as the leading rusher in team history. "I wanted him to know that I greatly, really, truly in my heart appreciate him as a person, as a Dallas Cowboy and as a football player."
Smith wasn't finished with his thank-yous.
He also sought Daryl Johnston, Smith's lead blocker in 131 of his 142 games, but probably no longer. Johnston re-injured his neck in the opener and won't return this season. Although he's going to try coming back next year, the odds are long.
Johnston will remain with the team for moral support and advice. On Monday night, the guy affectionately known as "Moose" was walking the sidelines carrying a clipboard. Fans gave him a "Mooooose" call when he was shown on the stadium's television screen early in the first quarter. He got more air time when Smith hugged him following the milestone.
"Not having him out there is different for me because this guy has led me for all these years and all those yards," said Smith, who came into the league in 1990, a year after Johnston. "Not to have him is like losing a brother almost. That's an unfortunate part of the business. He's truly going to be missed by me."
Talking about Johnston made Smith choke up a bit. He ended a group interview with that response and hurried away.
Barry Sanders is retired. Jamal Anderson is hurt and out for the year. Terrell Davis is struggling without John Elway.
And Emmitt Smith just keeps going.
"He's a real competitor, a fighter," quarterback Troy Aikman said. "He's still got a lot left in the tank."
Two years after career lows of 1,074 yards and four touchdowns, Smith has opened 1999 with consecutive 100-yard games and three touchdowns.
Against Atlanta, he had his longest run in two years, a 37-yarder, and he proved he's still durable with 29 carries. Dallas is 15-1 when he has that many attempts.
"I can stand here with a smile on my face knowing that my career is long from being over," said Smith, whose three rushing TDs extend his NFL record to 128.
Smith's 108 yards against the Falcons give him 12,783 in his career. Dorsett had 12,739.
Before he can get to Walter Payton (16,276) or Barry Sanders (15,269), Smith must catch Eric Dickerson (13,259). That's likely to happen in five games, maybe six.
It would be fitting for it to happen in six games, which would be Nov. 8 at Minnesota, another Monday night game.
In 20 Monday night games, Smith has 2,057 yards, the most of any player in the series' 30 years.
Cowboys are "America's Team" againNEW YORK -- For the sixth straight season, the Dallas Cowboys are the nation's favorite NFL team, according to the Harris poll.
According to the latest poll, the Cowboys are either the favorite or the second-favorite team of 22 percent of those who follow professional football. They are followed by the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers (18 percent each) with the Denver Broncos, winners of two straight Super Bowls, fourth with 13 percent.
Rounding out the top ten are Pittsburgh (11 percent); Miami (9); Minnesota (8); Washington (7), and Chicago, the New York Giants and New England (all 6).
The poll was based on a telephone survey of 1,008 adults, 541 of whom said they follow professional football. In the survey, 53 percent said they follow the NFL, the fourth straight year the figure was over 50 percent.
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