Rushing leader plans to go out a Cowboy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Running back Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, will retire this offseason, sources told ESPN.

Several Smith confidants said that, barring a last-minute change of plans, Smith will announce his retirement on Thursday in Jacksonville, site of Super Bowl XXXIX.

Smith would like to retire as a Cowboy, sources said, and Dallas owner Jerry reportedly will attend Thursday's ceremony.

Reached by the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Smith did not confirm he was retiring.

"Did you see my year last year? Do you think I'm ready to retire?" he was quoted as saying.

Smith, 35, played 13 seasons for the Cowboys, helping them win three Super Bowls, and played the last two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.

Smith was in Jacksonville on Monday, where he was at a dinner to honor past Super Bowl MVPs. When asked about retiring, he told the Dallas Morning News that he wanted to retire as a Cowboy, but stopped short of saying he would retire this offseason.

"I will, in some way, shape or form," Smith said about retiring as a Cowboy. "There's always a chance [of not playing in 2005]. Somebody has got to want me, and if they don't want me, then what? … I want to play. I want to do what I want to do."

Smith may sign some sort of ceremonial one-day deal with Dallas. In recent years, other veteran star players have returned to the teams where they spent their glory days.

The St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press speculated that Smith could join an investment group that is trying to buy the Vikings.

After an injury-plagued first season with the Cardinals in 2003, Smith rushed for 937 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He
has 18,355 yards overall and 164 TDs. He was the league's most
valuable player in 1993.
Neither the Cardinals nor Cowboys had any announcements planned
regarding Smith.

Asked about Smith possibly retiring, former teammate Troy Aikman
"I hate to speculate on it. At some point it will end, maybe
this year or the next. Emmitt's had a terrific career. I'm sure the
last two years have been difficult for Emmitt in Arizona.

"One thing in this game, when you play on a team that has been
together for as long as we were in Dallas, and then you lose guys,
it takes a toll."

Smith was lauded by several players in this year's Super Bowl as
a role model, a man who conducted himself the right way on and off
the field.

"It would be a great loss for the league," New England running
back Corey Dillon said. "I'm going to miss him. I looked up to
him, watching him win Super Bowls."

Added Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson: "He's such a low-key,
classy individual. And what he's been able to achieve hasn't been
given just due. He's such an ambassador of the game. Football's
been good to him, and I hope he reciprocates it by staying close to
the game. I hope he doesn't completely walk away; I hope he doesn't
fade away."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.