In the hopes of witnessing NFL history, I went to the Dallas game yesterday. I hoped that I would see Emmitt Smith break the all-time rushing record and for a time, it appeared as if he might during the second quarter. When that ended, he was still 38 yards away.
During half-time, Emmitt Smith suggested to the offensive coordinator that he should run the "15 Lead" more in the second half (Basically a dive play to the left with a lead blocker). It was on that very play during the fourth quarter that Emmitt snaked through the line, got tripped up and then stumbled forward using his legs and right hand and dove into the NFL history books.
Now admittedly I have been an Emmitt Smith fan since I drafted him on my very first fantasy football team back in 1991 and when a childhood buddy suggested we should actually witness the historic moment, I did a little math and bought the Seattle tickets last July. I could think of little I wanted more than to witness Emmitt breaking the all-time record in the company of a good friend. Someone that I had navigated the minefield of my youth with and that - somehow - we had managed to survive a bit wiser, a bit more mature and with only minimal physical scars or police records.
I also brought my own nine year-old son in the hopes that this sport, that game and the moment could become a part of our own memories as well. And so it did.
Once the game was over, there was a very moving ceremony that they may have not shown in your viewing area. The width of the field was covered in children outlining the same #22 that they all wore on their white jerseys. A huge platform in the shape of a star was assembled to support the guest speakers that included Marcus Allen, Pat Summerall, Darryl "Moose" Johnson, Michael Irvin and Walter Payton's older brother.
They all spoke but not about numbers or trophies, not the passing of some mark but instead about the passion and purity of the game of football. About their love for a man who excelled not with strength or speed but with heart and determination. A football player that did not succeed merely because of others but instead a man who raised the game of those who played alongside and made it seem, perhaps, that he was the product of them when the truth was opposite. More than anything, they spoke about a man that they called a friend.
When they concluded their speeches, Emmitt finally appeared amidst fireworks, smoke and a thunderous ovation and he sprinted around the length of the stadium slapping the outreached hands of those at ground level. When he finally reached the star and climbed the stairs, fireworks again went off, leaving a huge, glowing #22 behind the stage.
While obviously touched with weight of the day, Emmitt managed to speak to the crowd about his accomplishment. His words were gracious and sincere, speaking about his love of the game and the importance of his team and the city which had embraced him.
He talked about his friend and mentor named Walter Payton whom he had not passed by so much as merely been pulled up alongside and beyond. He spoke of inspirations in life and the importance of pursuing dreams. When he had finished, Jerry Jones apologized that it was not possible to have his name in the ring of honor yet but offered something in the interim. And with that, the five Super Bowl banners which hang from the ceiling of Texas Stadium where suddenly joined by a sixth banner.
"All-time Leading Rusher ... 22 ... Emmitt Smith.''
It was the end of 13 years of hard work and sacrifice for Emmitt Smith and a well-deserved honor for him. But selfishly, it meant more than that for me.
It was my chance to spend a most glorious afternoon at a ballgame with an old buddy while sitting with my arm around my son. A chance to use my cell phone when the record fell to call a friend that long ago started a web site with me called the Huddle. While I could not hear him, I knew he would instantly recognize what that roar over the phone meant.
More than anything, it was a day that my son got to see his Dad screaming like a banshee while he himself wore a big foam finger and hooted like a monkey. A day that will now live on behind a piece of glass that holds a game program, a couple of ticket stubs and a photograph of me and the boy beaming in the stands. It was a day of history. It was a day of records. It was a day of memories.
Too few, too far in-between and never to be forgotten.