JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, maintained for much of this season that his football-playing future wouldn't necessarily be up to him. He was interested in playing next season, he said regularly, but that would be possible only if a team wanted him.
Now it appears that Smith, who turns 36 in May, won't wait long enough to find out. He reportedly will announce his retirement here Thursday.
It seemed inevitable when this season began that Smith was headed toward retirement this offseason. He was coming off an injury-filled 2003 season -- his first with the Arizona Cardinals after 13 years with the Dallas Cowboys -- in which he made only five starts and rushed for a career-low 256 yards. He was slated to be backup this season.
But Coach Dennis Green abruptly handed him the starting job at the end of summer practices, and Smith responded by running for 937 yards this season. He might have had his first 1,000-yard season since 2001 if he hadn't missed a December game at Detroit because of a sprained toe.
Smith denied the reports Tuesday, telling the Dallas Morning News that he still hoped to play next season. But he apparently was just trying to keep his Thursday announcement from being upstaged.
Smith's two-year contract with the Cardinals ran through the just-completed season, and he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. He has rushed for 18,355 yards in his 15 seasons and won three Super Bowl titles with the Cowboys in the 1990s. He had 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, won four league rushing titles and won a Super Bowl most valuable player award and a regular season MVP. He is virtually certain to be a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the required five-year wait.
He apparently plans to sign a temporary contract with Dallas to end his career as a member of the Cowboys. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner, is to participate in Thursday's announcement. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Smith could join an investment group, led by Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler, that's attempting to purchase the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs.
Seymour Cleared To Play
The Patriots cleared three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour to play Sunday after he participated fully today.
Seymour missed the Patriots' last three games, including both of their AFC playoff victories, because of a knee injury, thought to be a sprained medial collateral ligament. He didn't participate in Monday's practice but said Tuesday that he expected to play against the Eagles. Sunday's game comes six weeks after Seymour got hurt, and most MCL injuries heal fully within six weeks.
Linebacker Ted Johnson, who sat out Monday's practice because of what was described by the club as tightness in a leg muscle, also practiced today. The Patriots switched their practice time from the morning to the mid-afternoon, and found the field at the high school at which they're practicing this week to be less slick than it had been Monday. . . .
Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was added Tuesday to the AFC Pro Bowl team, replacing injured Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. Carolina's Mark Fields was added to the NFC squad in place of fellow linebacker Derrick Brooks of Tampa Bay. It completes an uplifting comeback for Fields, who sat out last season while undergoing treatments for Hodgkin's disease. It is Fields's first Pro Bowl nod since the 2000 season, when he was with the New Orleans Saints. . . .
Quarterback Tim Couch, the former top overall draft choice released by Cleveland last offseason and by Green Bay in training camp, underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery Tuesday. . . . Miami granted cornerback Patrick Surtain permission to seek a trade. . . . Former Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams told reporters Tuesday that he is happy in retirement and still has no immediate plans to return to the NFL. Williams was in South Florida as the defendant in a paternity suit. New Dolphins coach Nick Saban has left open the possibility of Williams returning to the team if he wishes to do so. . . . Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said during a radio interview Tuesday that he expects Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre to retire this offseason. . . . Denver officially completed the hiring of Bob Slowik, the Packers' defensive coordinator before being replaced after the season by Jim Bates, as its defensive backs coach.
Trotter Revives Career
Last summer, there was no reason to believe that Jeremiah Trotter would end this season as the starting middle linebacker on a Super Bowl team. He'd been released by the Redskins after two disappointing, injury-filled seasons in Washington. The conventional wisdom around the league was that his knees were too creaky and his game was too undisciplined for him to be a starting player any longer, and he might be a malcontent as a backup.
"I couldn't even find a job," Trotter said Tuesday. "I was ready to get in the unemployment line. It was tough. You never want to get released, especially when a great coach like Joe Gibbs is coming in. You want to be a part of that. . . . People said I wasn't healthy and I would never get my knees right."
The last place that Trotter thought he'd end up was in Philadelphia. He'd left the Eagles following the 2001 season in a bitter, very public contract dispute with Coach Andy Reid. And Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was satisfied with Trotter's replacement, Mark Simoneau, as his starting middle linebacker.
But Reid had taken the first step toward repairing his relationship with Trotter with a sympathetic call after Trotter's 2002 season with the Redskins was ended early by a torn knee ligament suffered in a Thanksgiving game at Dallas. The two had a fence-mending talk on the field at FedEx Field during a stoppage in play in the Eagles' dismantling of the Steve Spurrier-coached Redskins on a Monday night early in the 2003 season. So Trotter swallowed his pride and phoned Reid last summer. Reid eventually convinced Johnson to take Trotter back as a minimum-salary backup, and Trotter agreed to perform an indignity for a former Pro Bowler and play on special teams.
But what Johnson saw in early-season practices was a player more interested in staying within the defensive scheme than he had been during his previous Eagles tenure, while still playing with the same passion and hard-hitting intensity. When the Eagles defense continued to struggle to stop the run, Johnson made an in-season lineup switch and put Trotter at middle linebacker, moving Simoneau to outside linebacker and Nate Wayne to the bench. The Philadelphia defense immediately got tougher, and Trotter was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will be a key performer Sunday as the Eagles try to contain New England Patriots tailback Corey Dillon.
"The running backs were lining up to the play the Eagles," Trotter said. "We knew it would be a long day for us. They were like, 'I'm going for 250 [yards] today.' Once I was inserted, I said, 'We should want teams to come in and try to run on us because we're going to stop it.' . . . I was born for this defense."
Two of the five luxury cruise liners chartered by the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee to dock along the St. Johns River and accommodate guests here this week are scheduled to arrive today. Jacksonville made the ships part of its Super Bowl proposal because the city didn't have enough hotel rooms to satisfy the NFL's requirements for hosting the game. The ships are providing more than 3,500 additional rooms, according to the Jacksonville Port Authority. . . .
Rain is in the forecast for today and Thursday, potentially affecting the teams' practices, but Sunday is to be mostly sunny with temperatures reaching the mid-60s. . . .
How serious is Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens about returning from his severe ankle sprain to play Sunday? According to Eagles head trainer Rick Burkholder, Owens is spending his nights this week sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, attempting to promote healing with exposure to increased oxygen levels. Burkholder seemed skeptical about the medical effects of the practice, but said he was fine with it mostly because Owens believed it was helping.
Burkholder describes Owens's rehabilitation as a collaborative effort. "I like to say he's like Smarty Jones," Burkholder said. "I'm riding him through the week and I'm going to get him to the gate on Sunday."
Owens participated in portions of Monday's practice and in Tuesday's half-hour walk-through, and is to step up his activity during the Eagles' practice today. He still must convince Reid to give him the final go-ahead to play. But that appears at this point to be a mere formality, barring a practice-field setback this week. Owens not only pledged Tuesday to play Sunday, but he said he'd play all-out.
"You can't play this game cautious," he said.
The game's master of the controversy-generating touchdown celebration said he doesn't have anything special planned if he gets into the end zone Sunday, however. "My being out there will be special enough," Owens said.
Crennel Says Focus Is On Eagles
If Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has received unofficial word from the Browns that he will be their head coach after the Super Bowl, he wasn't saying so Tuesday.
"I tell my players never to assume," Crennel said. "I don't have the job. I work for the New England Patriots. As long as I am a Patriot, I am a Patriot. After this game, we will see what happens."
Under NFL rules, the Browns are prohibited from offering Crennel the job until after the Super Bowl. But everyone in the sport has assumed for weeks that the job is Crennel's, a notion that was reinforced when Cleveland didn't hire any of its candidates who were available sooner.
"It is encouraging that there is a job still open, so that means you still have a chance," Crennel said. "That's all that you tell your players: You just do the best that you can and see what happens. So, you know, I do the best that I can. And if it happens, that will be great. If it doesn't happen, I will go on."
The NFL's anti-tampering rules in effect kept Crennel and Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis off the head-coaching market last winter, when seven clubs had vacancies but none was willing to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire a coach. Crennel said Tuesday that he didn't exactly get discouraged, but he accepted the fact that maybe a head-coaching job never would come his way and he'd have to deal with it.
Weis solved the problem by accepting a college head-coaching job 7 1/2 weeks ago at Notre Dame, although he opted to remain with the Patriots through the completion of their season. Crennel got lucky, and the Browns stuck to their word that they would wait until after the Super Bowl, if necessary, to hire the coach that they wanted.
"The rules are the rules, okay?" Crennel said. "The rules of the NFL say that there is a tampering rule. Nobody can talk to me as long as I work for the Patriots, and I still work for the Patriots. So when I finish this game, if Cleveland decides that they want to offer me a job, then they will contact me and offer me a job. But until that time occurs, I am a Patriot."
But the rules did allow Crennel to interview once with the Browns during the Patriots' playoff bye week, and that get-together with owner Randy Lerner, team president John Collins and new general manager Phil Savage apparently sealed the job for him.
"I can say I put my best foot forward," Crennel said. "If their impression was that I floored them, then that is great. I think that I didn't do anything different in the Browns interview than I did San Francisco interview [the following day] and the interviews last year. Sometimes situations are different. Teams have different needs and different wants and different desires. And if a team wants your particular style and expertise and you fit that, then I think that gives you the best chance to win that job."
Crennel is a disciple of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, and he has helped Belichick to win two of the past three Super Bowls and cement his reputation as the sport's defensive mastermind. But Crennel said he is "different than Belichick," with a different personality that will make his head-coaching style a bit different. For one, Crennel said, he will allow some of his assistant coaches -- his coordinators -- to speak to the media, although perhaps only once per week. Belichick prohibits his assistants from talking to reporters, so the annual Super Bowl media day became a rare chance for Crennel and Weis to be in the spotlight. Both drew large crowds of media members Tuesday.
But Crennel stressed repeatedly that his thoughts are not yet consumed with being the head coach in Cleveland.
"My mind is concentrated on the game at hand because if you don't concentrate on the game at hand, then you are probably going to end up losing it," Crennel said.
Crennel even deftly dodged the question when asked what his expectations for next week are.
"My expectation for next week is to try to win the game this week," he said. "Then we will see what happens next week."
Officiating Crew Named
Referee Terry McAulay has been selected to work his first Super Bowl, the NFL announced today.
The league selects the officiating crew that grades out the best during the regular season to work the Super Bowl. But the individual members of the crew must have at least five years of NFL officiating experience and must have worked at least one conference championship game to be selected for the Super Bowl. Three of the six other members of McAulay's regular crew didn't qualify, and were replaced by the highest-rated officials at those spots league-wide during the regular season.
The resulting seven-man officiating crew for Sunday's game has a combined 44 games of postseason experience. Tom Sifferman, added to the crew as the field judge, will be working his third straight Super Bowl.
The alternate referee is Ed Hochuli.
Niners Hire McCloughan
San Francisco hired Scot McCloughan, Seattle's college scouting director, as its vice president of player personnel. He replaces ousted general manager Terry Donahue as the 49ers' front-office chief. McCloughan reportedly received a five-year contract worth $800,000 annually, but new 49ers coach Mike Nolan will have the final say on personnel decisions.
Eight candidates were known to have interviewed for the 49ers' front-office job. The exodus from the Seahawks' front office continues. Seattle fired Bob Whitsitt as club president and lost VP of football operations Ted Thompson to Green Bay, where he became the Packers' general manager.