Legendary Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was not just an accidental tourist in the career of former TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson, who is retiring today as a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Smith, the league's all-time leading rusher, was Tomlinson's inspiration as a little boy growing up a Cowboys fan in Waco, and then moreso when he went on to have an outstanding college career at TCU.
There is no question Tomlinson, who finished his 11-year career with the Chargers and the Jets as the league's fifth all-time leading rusher, had his sights set on Smith at the top spot.
He didn't quite make it but what he accomplished was enough to make him a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and it earned him the respect and admiration of his idol.
"I have known LaDainian since he was 13 years old," Smith said. "When you know someone when they are very young, and you watch that person grow into being a man and one of the very best to ever play the game, it is inspirational for me personally. He was a pleasure to watch play football. He did it with pride and passion and he was a true professional from his very first day in the NFL. I am extremely honored to know that I have had a positive influence on him. What he accomplished in his career gives me great pride."
And although Tomlinson didn't get the rushing title or a coveted Super Bowl, Smith said LT leaves the game with dignity and a respect that few enjoy.
"LaDainian has had a tremendous impact on the league, not only as a player but also as a person with great character, and it shows by the respect his peers have for him and how well-known he is to the public," Smith said. "He accomplished many great things as a player, but I don't know of any player recently who has left the game with as much admiration and respect from his peers as LT enjoys. And that might be an athlete's most cherished accomplishment."
-- Clarence Hill Jr.