IRVING, Texas - When he entered the league back in 1990, Emmitt Smith admitted he set nearly every goal possible for himself, including becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
After Super Bowls, five rushing titles, touchdown records and MVP awards, Smiths' trophy case is finally complete.
That is because Smith is now the new king of NFL runners, surpassing Walter Payton Sunday as the all-time leading rusher, passing the former Chicago Bears great with a season-high 109 yards, giving him 16,743 yards, 16 ahead of Payton's former 18-year standard.
The record-breaker occurred early in the fourth quarter with Smith needing just 10 yards. He took the handoff and busted through the left side of the line, sliding along at the end for an 11-yard game with 9:10 to play.
And with that, history was made.
"I don't know what to say," said Smith as he opened his post-game press conference. "Today was a very special day, very special for a number of reasons. Obviously, individually. But when you think about the individual accomplishment that occurred today, I could not go on and pat myself on the back, because so many people have been so inspirational in the whole process. That's what I love about this sport, is that it's a team game and you can't do anything without the support of your teammates."
Unfortunately for Smith, the historic event comes on a day in which the ultimate team player didn't accomplish the ultimate goal: Victory. The Cowboys fell to the Seahawks, 17-14, losing two consecutive games this season for the first time to drop their record to 3-5 heading to Detroit next Sunday.
But that was about the only sour note on an afternoon that exemplified Smith's 13-year career. Needing what would be a season-high of 93 yards to break the record, the 33-year-old running back ran with passion, determination and intensity, willing himself to the record in front of the hometown fans at Texas Stadium behind another makeshift Cowboys line that actually was further depleted midway through the fourth quarter.
"It was so important to share this record with our fans," Smith said. "They deserve this record and deserve to be a part of it. To have 64,000 people here today cheering me on and to know that they're going to go home and remember this for the rest of their lives, just like I will. It was special to do it here."
Along with several of Smith's family members in attendance, the late Payton, who died of kidney failure in 1999, was well represented as well. His mother Alyne, and brother Eddie were on hand. During the post-game ceremony on the field, Payton's brother, also a running back for the Lions during the 1970's, said Smith more than had the family's blessing.
"This is record means as much to our family as it does to you," Payton said to the fans that stayed for the celebration. "We're honored to have Emmitt break this record. There is not any other player in the NFL who deserves this more than he does. We're so proud of him because he played the game the way you're supposed to play it. He did it as hard as he could go, every play for every year. And that's how Walter did it, too. It's a great day for him and us."
And it was a great day for the fans, despite seeing their team lose in the final 30 seconds after a late Seattle field goal. But of the 63,854 paid attendance, nearly three-fourths stuck around for a trophy presentation in which former teammates Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnston addressed the fans before Smith made his way to the podium.
After watching a video congratulations from Payton's wife Connie, then addressing the fans for their support over the years as well as Sunday, Smith couldn't hold back the tears when owner Jerry Jones introduced a banner of Smith's record-breaking day, which now hangs from the Texas Stadium rafters alongside two Super Bowl banners.
But it wasn't the first time, or the last, that tears fell from Smith's eyes on this day.
The record-setting play came on a second-and-seven from the 30-yard line, with Smith needing just 10 yards. The play was "15 Lead" to the left side and Smith busted through a big hole, broke one arm tackle and then reached for extra yardage, stretching past the 40 for the needed yards.
"I was very aware of what I needed," Smith said. "I did know because the people taking care of the Jumbotrons kept showing it and flashing it and counted it down for me. Once I broke through the line of scrimmage, I knew that had to be the one."
Immediately after breaking the record, Smith darted down the field past the 50-yard line with his arms raised. He was picked up by his fullback Robert Thomas and then handed the ball from the official. The game remained stopped for a few minutes as Smith waved to the fans, hugged his mother on the sideline and just soaked up the moment as tears filled his eyes.
"I was just so relieved at that point," he said. "I can't really remember what was going through my head. It did happen so fast. But I just knew that the moment I've been waiting for, for so long, finally arrived and it was special. It really was. I don't know how to describe it."
But Smith didn't have much time to celebrate. He gathered himself in time to get back to the huddle and continue a critical drive in hopes to tie the game. Smith actually lost a yard on the next play, which kept him one yard ahead of Payton, but then left no doubt on his next carry, busting a 14-yard run into Seattle territory. A couple of pass plays and a personal foul penalty on the Seahawks set up a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line.
Once again, it was Smith's turn to shine, as he scored just his second rushing touchdown of the season with a run off left tackle. The score tied the game with 5:35 to play. But the Cowboys didn't get the ball back until just 21 seconds remained. Seattle had eaten up nearly the entire clock and put the game away with a short field goal, which put a damper on Smith's day.
"I guess we couldn't have our cake and eat it too," Smith said. "It wasn't the ideal setting for this day. We would've liked to come out of here with a win. But it doesn't always work that way. That was our goal coming into the day - to win the game."
While that team goal was not accomplished, Smith is now running out of individual achievements to conquer.
"When he came into the league back in 1990, he told me had a lot of goals in mind," Irvin said to the fans following the game. "He said he wanted to help us win a Super Bowl … and he did that. He said he wanted to become an MVP … and he did that. And then he said he wanted to become the all-time leading rusher in the NFL. And today … he did that."
From a numbers standpoint, Smith is the best running back of all time. Better than Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown or Eric Dickerson. But when asked if he considers himself the best, Smith tried to stay away from such comparisons. As long as he's considered in that group, that seems to satisfy him just fine.
"To say that I'm the greatest running back of all time would be an injustice to what their talent level really is," Smith said. "How can you say that I'm the greatest or someone else is the greatest? Statistically, I am No. 1. I'm very confident that I'm one of the greatest players to play this game. I'm confident with that. But to say that I'm the very best - there are different factors involved and everyone has their own opinion. Everybody has their own unique skills and some guys do things better than others."
But it when comes to racking up rushing yards over a career, no one has done it better than Smith.