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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Run Tony Run!

The Andre Agassi blog post got me to thinking about people that shaped who I am today and inspired me. So I have decided to make talking about people that influenced me a regular part of this blog. Today's subject is Tony Dorsett, the hall of fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys.

Tony is among my earliest boyhood heroes. I became an admirer of his almost from the beginning of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. I was only 8 years old when he joined the Cowboys, so some of those details are sketchy for me, but it wasn't long before I was watching the Cowboys every chance I could to cheer Tony on.

Tony was one of the most prolific running backs in the league right from the beginning of his career. I remember watching him play on Sunday, or watching the highlights during a postgame show to try to find out how Tony had done. I always wanted the Cowboys to win, but I also wanted Tony to go over 100 yards rushing in a given game.

I identified with Tony rather easily. As a very thin boy growing up size was always an issue for me. Tony was considered small for the NFL at 5'11" tall and 192 lbs. I read his biography when I was a young adult and remember that Tony intimated that he was always told, at every level of football, that he was too small for the game that he loved. And at every level of football he excelled. Being told he was too small for the game only drove him to try that much harder to succeed. And succeed he did.

His career statistics in the NFL speak for themselves. 12,739 yards rushing. Another 3,554 yards on 398 receptions. He totaled 91 TDs in his career. He was also a solid post-season performer amassing 1,383 rushing yards in 17 career playoff games. He also played in Superbowls XII and XIII, and his Cowboys won Superbowl XII.

One of the things Tony is most known for is his 99-yard touchdown run in a 1982 Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings, a NFL record that can never be broken! The footage of that run is forever etched into my memory banks. Unfortunately I had gone to bed since the Cowboys were getting beat and I had to be up for school the next day. At the bus-stop that next morning I overheard two kids talking about Dorsett's 99-yard run and I was sick to my stomach that I had gone to bed before it happened. It doesn't surprise me that Tony was the one NFL running back in history to have accomplished that feat.

Though not the power runner that Emmitt Smith would later be, or that his contemporary Earl Campbell was, Tony broke his fair share of tackles. Tony's speed and ability to make defenders miss is what really set him apart though. He had a knack for finding holes in the defensive line, bursting through them with his great speed, then juking the linebackers and defensive backs out of their shoes. I can remember so many great runs by Tony, and I can remember watching him in many of his 173 career games.

The end of Tony's career was disappointing to me. And not just because it ended, but because of the way it ended. The Cowboys had signed Herschel Walker in the offseason and head coach Tom Landry announced that he would be instituting the dream backfield; both Walker and Dorsett starting together at halfback. I remember my excitement and anticipation before that first game. Tony was running like crazy that night, gaining yardage in huge chunks. On a sweep he turned his ankle and left the game never to return. That injury would ultimately cost him his starting spot to Walker and marked the end of his career with the Cowboys.

He finished his career in 1988 with the Denver Broncos, which has always left a bad taste in my mouth. I also lost a little respect for Tom Landry in his handling of the whole Walker vs. Dorsett fiasco.

I miss a lot things about being a kid, but watching and cheering for Tony every week during the NFL season ranks right near the top. I always loved the Cowboys, but Tony was always my favorite player and not seeing him play for the last 18 years makes me yearn for those seasons of yesteryear when Tony was a flash of silver and blue on my television screen.