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`GET THE BALL IN THESE HANDS,’ SMITH SAID

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At halftime in the Super Bowl, Emmitt Smith sought out offensive coordinator Norv Turner in the Dallas Cowboys locker room.

Smith, the MVP who won his third straight rushing title, had gained a mostly insignificant 41 yards in the first half and the Cowboys trailed Buffalo 13-6."Emmitt held out his hands," Turner recalled. "He said, `See these hands? Get the ball in these hands.' "

No sooner said than done.

After James Washington returned a fumble 46 yards for the tying TD, the Cowboys stopped Buffalo and took over at their own 37 to begin Operation Emmitt.

Smith got the ball on six straight plays. Five times he hit the right side on counter runs, following behind Nate Newton and Kevin Gogan, 303 and 319 pounds worth of offensive linemen.

The play-by-play tells the story:

- E. Smith right for 9 yards.

- E. Smith right for 3 yards.

- E. Smith right for 9 yards.

- E. Smith left for 7 yards.

- E. Smith right for 14 yards.

- E. Smith right for 4 yards.

On the seventh play, Smith rested.

After Troy Aikman gained 3 yards on a pass to Daryl Johnston, it was back to the meal ticket as Smith ripped off the final 15 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, shedding tackler Jeff Wright at the line of scrimmage.

The drive was eight plays for 64 yards, with Smith's piece of the action seven runs for 61 yards.

Newton was not surprised.

"We knew they would wear down," the big guy said of the Buffalo defenders. "They've got great players, but when you're messing with a bunch of 350-pound men, you've got to root-hog or die."

From Smith's standpoint, the drive, running the same play over and over again made perfect sense.

"When you get a play that works, you run it until they stop it," he said. "If they don't stop it, you run it and run it and run it."

On that single drive, Smith gained 20 more yards than he had in the first half, a half in which the Bills seemed to have solved Dallas' offensive schemes.

"They presented problems in the first half," Smith said. "They hurt our draw because they didn't rush it. They sat and read and made plays. They didn't give us lanes."

After his one-man ground assault, Smith went back to Turner again. "I said, `Coach, you've got to find someone else to get the ball to.' "

Once the Cowboys had the lead, they seemed to squeeze the life right out of the Bills. Smith just kept following his blocks, running through tackles. He finished with 30 carries and 132 yards and tacked on a fourth-quarter touchdown on fourth-and-1 just for good measure.

The huge haul of yards and the two TDs made Smith the MVP, completing the first regular season-Super Bowl MVP sweep in NFL history.

"Being MVP of the league and this game, too, you can't ask for anything more. I mean, I started out missing the first two ballgames and got hurt in the midpart of the season and was behind everybody in rushing. I was able to capture that and get back in and help the team win. I mean it's been a great, great season for the team and for myself."

It didn't start off all that well. Smith was involved in a messy holdout that kept him out of training camp and the first two games of the season, both losses.

It was then that owner Jerry Jones gave him a $13.6 million deal. Smith won his third straight rushing title with a marvelous 168-yard performance in the season's final game against the New York Giants, a victory that clinched the NFC East for the Cowboys.

He finished with 1,486 yards, joining Hall of Famers Earl Campbell, Jim Brown and Steve Van Buren as the only players to win three straight rushing titles.

Smith separated his right shoulder in the Giant game and played hurt the rest of the way. "It did bother me," he said after the Super Bowl. "I got hit a couple of times and a guy fell on it. I mean a big ballgame like this, you have to learn to work through things like that."

So Smith stayed, beating up Buffalo, shrugging off tacklers, running through the Bills. And when he was done, the Cowboys were Super Bowl champions again.

Someone asked Smith if the MVP sweep and winning another championship made up for the unpleasantness at the start of thr year.

"You're never happy," he said. "You're never satisfied. For me, there's a lot of room for myself to grow and for the team to grow."

And the contract?

"I got kind of short-changed if you ask me," he said.