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After a long, winding search for running back greatness consistency, the Cowboys may have finally found their next Emmitt Smith.
ARLINGTON - It’s been a good 45 minutes since DeMarco Murray danced, darted and drove his way to the best three-game performance in Dallas Cowboys’ running back history. In amassing 139 yards in an otherwise mundane 23-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the rookie punctuated a trio of games in which he ran for a combined 466 yards, better than anything Emmitt Smith ever authored and more than twice the best effort of his current peer, Felix Jones.
The assembled media in the Cowboys Stadium locker room has been treated to a glimpse of Murray’s potential greatness. And now we’re getting a face full of a gigantic ego to match the talent.
“I’m gonna need some room, guys, please,” Murray snaps after the throng of about 50 reporters has indeed parted in front of his locker to, duh, give him plenty of room. Draped in only a towel and basking in glory, Murray is the only Cowboy in the locker room. As he gets dressed, he attempts to shed the cameras and notepads like so many would-be tacklers.
“No, I’m gonna need more room,” he says. “I need y’all to step back.”
Never in 25 years covering Dallas-Fort Worth sports have I witnessed an athlete build a 10-foot personal-space perimeter around his locker. But then again, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a player like Murray.
Eventually, after another five minutes of dressing and preening, he turns around in front of his locker and addresses the adoring masses. And one thing’s already abundantly clear: The kid from Oklahoma already has the prima donna attitude. Now if he can just continue his primo aptitude.
“The kid is the truth, man,” says a guy who should know, former Cowboys’ star running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. “He’s the real deal. Got the entire package. I think the Cowboys have found their running back of the future.”
One day, DeMarco Murray may come back to Cowboys Stadium for his own Ring of Honor induction. Here’s hoping he runs good enough for long enough so that owner Jerry Jones or perhaps successor to the throne Stephen Jones feel compelled to look at the list of legends ringing the billion-dollar stadium and, yes, give Murray his deserved, coveted space. But for now — on a sleepy Sunday otherwise reserved for the inductions of Drew Pearson, Larry Allen and Charles Haley — his task is a tad more simple and humble: Run over the lowly Seahawks and help the Cowboys climb back to .500 at mid-season.
“It’s too early to pat myself on the back or anything like that,” says Murray with a humility that belies his arrogant actions. “It’s nice to help us get a win. But I’ve got a long road ahead of me.”
On a day when the Cowboys improved to 4-4 by using a lackluster effort to beat an inferior opponent, Murray was again the beacon of hope for bigger, better things in the very near future. The Cowboys were lucky on Sunday. Fortunate to be playing the atrocious Seahawks, because probably 28 of the NFL’s other 31 teams beat them with that performance. They had drives of 96 and 86 yards end in only field goals. Dez Bryant was tackled at Dallas’ 1 after fielding a punt and fumbled at Seattle’s 1 after a catch. The Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch gashed Dallas’ once-proud run defense for 135 yards. In fact, it took an incredible hop-‘n-block of a field goal by Anthony Spencer and an improbable interception by Jason Hatcher that first pinballed off Sean Lissemore’s elbow and then the hand and helmet of Bradie James to finally subdue a struggling Seattle team that dragged Dallas down to a 6-6 halftime draw.
Fortunately, there are no style points in the NFL. The 27-point shellacking in Philadelphia counts only as an L. And the sheepish 10-point survival over one of the league’s most hapless teams counts as a W. Next Sunday comes the fork in the Cowboys’ road. Former head coach Chan Gailey and his vastly improved Buffalo Bills come to town with Dallas’ season at stake. A win and the Cowboys move to 5-4 with winnable games at the Redskins, home against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving and at the Cardinals looming. Win next Sunday and you won’t have to squint too hard to see an 8-4 record entering a Dec. 11 showdown against the NFC East-leading Giants in Arlington.
Lose to the Bills, fall to 4-5 and a 10-win season and playoff berth suddenly deteriorates from giddy plan to faint, irrational hope.
Regardless, the Cowboys’ season is already a relative success because of Murray. With an upright running style and at times awkward forward lean, his style (and No. 29 uniform number) remind of Eric Dickerson, with a tinge of more violence. Murray catches the ball out of the backfield. He churns for tough yards between the tackles. He glides in holes and has the speed to break outside.
He’s everything the Cowboys have been searching for since NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith last took a handoff with a star on his helmet in Washington’s FedEx Field on Dec. 29, 2002. Since then, the list of Cowboys to carry the ball is as long as it is lean.
Troy Hambrick. Richie Anderson. Aveion Cason. Adrian Murrell. Erik Bickerstaff. Jamar Martin. Julius Jones. Eddie George. ReShard Lee. Darian Barnes. Marion Barber. Tyson Thompson. Anthony Thomas. Lousaka Polite. Keylon Kincade. Tashard Choice. Felix Jones. Deon Anderson. Chris Gronkowski. Phillip Tanner. Tony Fiammetta.
Nine seasons and 20 runners later, the Cowboys finally again have a star running back. In addition to shredding the Rams for a franchise-record 253 yards on Oct. 23, Murray has rushed for 100 yards in two of Dallas’ last three games. He is the first back have multiple 100-yard games in a season since Julius Jones in 2004.
The third-round draft pick from Oklahoma started slow, arriving at training camp with a pulled hamstring that kept him from shining in San Antonio and the preseason. But when starter Felix Jones sprained his ankle at New England on Oct. 16, Murray took the ball, ran and hasn’t stopped.
“He’s a unique talent,” says head coach Jason Garrett. “To say the least, he’s done some things on the field that are impressive. At this point, it’s our job as a coaching staff to find ways to get the ball in his hands with a chance to be successful.”
Both Garrett and Jerry Jones, however, are hesitant to name Murray as the Cowboys’ No. 1 running back. Yes, there is a method to that apparent madness.
When Felix Jones returns (perhaps Sunday against Buffalo — if not then, definitely in Washington), the Cowboys might maintain him as the starter. The workload will still be split about 90/10 between Murray/Jones, just with Felix’s 10 percent coming at the beginning of games. Couple reasons.
Last time the Cowboys had an efficient, productive running game was ’04, when Julius Jones started games and Barber finished them. And, of course, there’s the benefit of retaining that dangling carrot of motivation and keeping Murray’s burgeoning ego in check by labeling him second-string. On the field and in the locker room, we’ve already experienced what the rookie is capable of.
But, honestly, we don’t mind waiting almost an hour to hear DeMarco Murray talk.
Because we’ve been waiting a decade to watch a Cowboy like him run.