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NFL Ramblings: With Tomlinson retired, will anyone break Smith’s record?

With the recent retirement announcement of former San Diego Charger and New York Jet LaDanian Tomlinson I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone will ever break the career rushing record of Emmitt Smith.

At 18,355 total rushing yards, Smith’s record is seemingly out of touch and perhaps in my lifetime it is. Tomlinson was the closest active player before he announced his retirement from the game this week with a total of 13,684 rushing yards. This leaves Thomas Jones as the closest ‘threat’ to Smith’s record. Jones has a total 10,591 yards rushing and has been in the league since 2000 so saying he has a shot to break Smith’s record would be like saying we have a man scheduled to land on Jupiter tomorrow.

As is the case with many records, discussion and debate ensues. Except for the fact that there is very little to debate at the current time.

The National Football League has gone ‘pass-happy’ which means the chances of a back coming within even sniffing distance of the record are remote. Factor in the NFL’s penchant for using multiple backs these days rather than using one feature back and you have further proof that when Emmitt Smith is old and gray and is still mis-pronouncing words on ESPN that his record will be just fine.

We can debate ad nauseum about whether Barry Sanders would have broken the record or whether Jim Brown would have put it far out of reach had he played longer but it is a frivilous endeavor. As much as it pains this Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan, a Dallas Cowboy will hold the rushing title for many years to come, but how many is the question?

There was a time in the great American pastime of baseball when no one dared dream that someone would break Babe Ruth’s home run record but Roger Maris did. No one ever dreamed that someone would catch Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record but someone did, allegedly, (cough-cough)…

How safe is Emmitt Smith’s record? Put it this way; if Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson rushed for 1,800 yards for 18 straight season he would still be shy of Smith’s record. Behind Thomas Jones who is certainly on his last legs is Steven Jackson of the Rams who is at 9,093 and he is also 28 years old. In other words, it isn’t happening anytime soon.

Click here for link to All-Time Rushing Leaders

So the question remains, will anyone break or even approach the record of Emmitt Smith any time soon? I’m one to never say ‘never.’ I mean, LeBron James is a game away from an NBA Title as I write so anything is possible, but the league would have to change dramatically and I don’t see it happening.

Teams are increasingly built more for speed and to expose match-ups where one-on-one situations can expose a team’s weakest link. That means using mutliple backs and receivers to exploit defenses. The only records I see falling in the near future are passing and receiving records and if Peyton Manning stays healthy in Denver that becomes a foregone conclusion.

What I can predict however is that the game will change over time. Not just becoming a safer game as is being pushed now, but the philosophy of teams will change as well. As defenses get smaller and faster to match-up with speedy offensive weapons, coaches will counter with more running but will it ever be enough to allow a guy to catch Smith?

Not anytime soon because the NFL often takes cues from the college game which sometimes takes cues from the high schools. High school teams and college teams continue to throw the ball at will using spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks. Those players then ascend to the next level where they in many ways dictate how NFL offenses will run.

Look at the fullback position for instance. It has morphed from a true head-knocker into a pass-catching threat into an H-back into what is essentially no longer a fullback. That trend started in the lower levels and continues today.

The game of football constantly changes but when and if it ever goes back to a ‘running back era’ type of game is doubtful. Hopefully you were around to see some of the greats like Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett, and maybe even Jim Brown. I’m fortunate enough to have seen all of them except Brown and I appreciate it more and more as time goes by because I think for me anyway, I’ve seen the last of the truly great runners.

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