Another day, another Dallas Cowboys legend wagging his finger at the current version of “America’s Team” and its collective failure to meet expectations. This time it’s Hall of Famer, three-time Super Bowl champ, and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. The Super Bowl XXVIII MVP says winning championships is how you become legendary.
“The one thing I would say to any young player, including the ones that you mentioned, is you’re not a star yet. You’re not a GOAT yet. And you’re not great yet. You have to win championships in order to become all of that. Yes, you’re on the most visible football team in the entire world. And you’re playing with a great organization. But your greatness is when you finish, and you finish well. In order to become a legend or legendary, you have to eliminate all of these things that we’re talking about. Period. Outside of that, you’ll be living in the shadows of what came before you.”
Emmitt Smith to current Cowboys: “You’re not a star yet. You’re not a GOAT yet. You’re not great yet. You have to win championships to become all of that. … Outside of that, you’re gonna be living in the shadows of what came before you.”
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) February 13, 2022
Of course what Smith said is true. He has the accolades and hardware to back it up. But this narrative and lecturing from old heads to younger players is so tiresome. As is the talk around this team.
Yes, the Cowboys are the most visible and valuable franchise in the NFL. Yes, they were the dominant team in the 1970’s, though they only won two titles. And from the early-to mid 1990s they won three. Outstanding accomplishments. But what does the play then have to do with the team now?
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. What’s so special about these Cowboys? Why should they also be competing for Super Bowls?
Times change, the sport evolves and talent gets dispersed more evenly throughout the league. This team and its players get talked about more than they should given their standing in the league.
Smith, his quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin were dubbed the “Triplets” during their playing days and while they deservedly got a lion’s share of the credit, they were surrounded by All-Pros and future Hall of Famers all along the offensive and defensive lines. You know, the non-glamour positions.
Current Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb haven’t won in the postseason at the rate of the “Triplets” and maybe they should have by now, but how much of this is on them?
Winning championships and having the opportunity to win championships is a complicated recipe. It obviously begins with talent. But not just high-end talent. Players that are malleable and can fit into different roles and positions to succeed. The environment also needs to be one where the talent can thrive, and you need luck.
The Cowboys had that recipe working in the ’70s and ’90s, but haven’t quite found the right balance in the 21st century. They have some of the necessary ingredients, but not all.
Until they find that balance, Smith is right. The current players will be living in the shadows of the legends of the past, fair or not.
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