Tomlinson finished his phenomenal career as the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher – a whopping 4,671 yards shy of his childhood idol. (That’s a figure almost equal to the career total of fellow recent retiree Marion Barber, arguably the Cowboys’ best back since Smith’s departure.)
Thomas Jones is the only other active back who is even halfway to Smith’s 18,355 yards. And Jones is 33 years old, coming off a 478-yard season and almost 8,000 yards away.
I compared Smith’s record to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak Sunday on Twitter. A follower replied with a better comparison: Cy Young’s 511 wins.
The records set by Smith and Young are testaments to tremendous durability almost as much as they are Hall of Fame talent. Those records will probably never be challenged in part because the games have changed so much.
Young started every four days, if not more often, and pitched a complete game more than 90 percent of the time. Complete games are a rarity these days with the reliance on bullpens, even though five-man starting rotations are the norm.
Smith was a workhorse back his entire career, an endangered species in today’s NFL. This has become a passing league with running back committees the norm, but tailbacks still seem to burn out faster than ever before.
Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (6,854 yards) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (6,752 yards) are the only active backs who appear to have even a slim chance of legitimately chasing Smith’s record. They’re 26 years old and over a third of the way there.
But 28 is considered old at their position, 30 over the hill. And Jones-Drew and Peterson would have to rush for more yards the rest of their careers than O.J. Simpson did in his entire career to catch Smith.
The odds of Smith’s record being broken are about as good as O.J.’s odds of succeeding in his quest to find the real killer.