On Sunday night December 27, 1998, almost 64,000 fans at Texas Stadium and countless more watching on national television saw Emmitt Smith cross the goal line twice against Washington to become the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.
The 2016 Dallas Cowboys had nothing to play for last evening in terms of playoff positioning, but the Cowboys still put their best foot forward with a dominant second half that led to the team’s 13th win of the year in a 42-21 dismantling of the Detroit Lions.
Back in 1998, the situation was somewhat similar for the Cowboys. A week 15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles had won the NFC East for Dallas, and the Cowboys week 16 contest against Washington was basically a tune up for Dallas’ upcoming first round playoff game.
There was a buzz in the crowd on the night however, as Cowboys’ star Emmitt Smith was primed to pass Marcus Allen for the most rushing touchdowns in NFL history. Smith entered the game tied with Allen with 123 career running TDs, and he, his teammates and Cowboys’ fans would like nothing more than for Smith to break the record against arch-rival Washington.
Dallas and Smith would get rolling in the second quarter. A Washington touchdown on the final play from scrimmage in the first quarter put the visitors up 7-3. Dallas started its next possession on the Washington 35, and took little time getting Smith in position to pass Allen. A 51 yard connection from Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin got the ball to the Washington 14 and from there Smith took over. The Florida native ran for nine yards and then four more, before beating Allen’s mark with a one yard touchdown run that put Dallas ahead 10-7.
The next time Dallas had the ball, Smith put some icing on the cake. Two Aikman to Billy Davis passes and a pass interference penalty on Washington got the ball to the Redskins’ 31 yard line. Smith ran for five yards on his first carry of the drive, and then finished the possession off with a marvelous 26 yard run for a score that featured some of the moves, vision and acceleration that made him the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Dallas would win the game 23-7 and finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record in divisional games. Unfortunately the team’s success against divisional foes would not translate into the post-season, as fellow NFC East dweller Arizona would come to Texas Stadium and shock the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs.
Smith’s remarkable career in Dallas would feature 153 rushing touchdowns, with #22 leading the NFL in that category in 1992 with 18, 1994 with 21 and 1995 with a then NFL record 25. Smith added 11 rushing scores to his resume in his two years as an Arizona Cardinal, leaving him with an NFL best 164.