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Twenty Years Ago, Emmitt Smith Became A Cardinal

Reflecting on the NFL's all-time leading rusher coming to Arizona

Emmitt Smith made note of it on Twitter -- it was 20 years ago Monday that Smith, the legendary Cowboys running back who was the NFL's all-time leading rusher, signed with the Cardinals for what turned out to be the final two years of his career. I remember it well. The Cardinals chose to hold a press conference here at the Arizona Biltmore -- where the current NFL owners meetings are taking place, and where they were taking place then as well. The national NFL media was in one place, and even though Smith wasn't on hand, the announcement was made to the world.

(I also remember being told the presser was coming, since I had left the meetings in the morning to go to ASU to cover the Sun Devils' pro day. A guy named Terrell Suggs was trying to firm up his draft status.)

Smith certainly turned the attention on the Cardinals at the time, with Dave McGinnis going into a crucial year. No, it didn't turn out the way Smith or the Cardinals wanted. He cracked his scapula in his return game in Dallas in 2003, sidelining him most of the season (although he was a key figure in the end of the McCown-to-Poole season finale when he kept the inexperienced McCown steady during the chaos of the end of the game.)

His final season, Dennis Green's first, wasn't great either, but Smith still had 937 yards while missing a game (and being banged up in others) and scored nine touchdowns. A 1,000-yard season would've been a fitting ending, but it wasn't meant to be. He hoped to keep playing, but the Cardinals decided it was time to move on and Smith then announced his retirement at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville.

"Hopefully," Emmitt said that day in Jacksonville to the Bidwill family, "I was a blessing to them. Hopefully I did all the things they thought I could do for them."

That didn't quite happen. But his story absolutely has a chapter that included the Cardinals. That's always an interesting memory, especially on the 20-year anniversary.

Arizona Cardinals runningback Emmitt Smith (22) slips past the reach of St. Louis Rams' Ryan Pickett, left, during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)