-- Not long after Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith said he believes he can play football for at least another two seasons, the NFL's new all-time leader in rushing yardage heard his cell phone ring at 12:20 p.m. today. There was a momentary pause, then a huge grin as Smith said, "Oh, so this is Air Force One?"
President Bush caught Smith at his cubicle in the Cowboys' locker room, surrounded by 30 members of the media. "How you doing, Mr. Bush?" he asked, then added after a pause, "Thank you." Smith got up from his seat and moved down a few spaces to speak privately with Bush, and their conversation lasted about three minutes.
At one point, Smith looked up and noticed several reporters and camera crews taking notes or getting tape, and he told Bush, "I got a lot of people looking at me right now. As long as I know it's you, that's all right."
After the call, Smith said the president had congratulated him on breaking the late Walter Payton's record Sunday when he gained 109 yards in 24 carries in a 17-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"The president also said you all [in the media] probably thought I was making it up," Smith said. "I've met him. I've spent time on the White House lawn. We're buddies. He put me on the [President's Council on Physical Fitness]. He said the whole country saw it, and he was happy for me. He wanted to congratulate me himself.
"He sounded real excited about it. He was sitting there watching it, too. It's like everyone in the country wanted to see me do it. I hope I did bring some enjoyment to people, especially with so many negative things going on lately . . . the sniper in Washington. . . . To me, sports has always been something to relieve stress in people's lives. That's what I love about it."
Smith was feted at a party thrown by team owner Jerry Jones on Sunday evening, and Smith said at last count he had returned 35 messages on his cell phone. He spoke to former teammate and Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who was covering the Tampa Bay-Carolina game for Fox and unable to attend; golfer Mark O'Meara; and high school and college teammates from Pensacola and the University of Florida.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also tried to reach him, though they hadn't connected by mid-afternoon. Several Dallas radio sports talk show hosts criticized Tagliabue for not being on hand for Smith's record-breaking performance, but a league spokesman said he had a prior long-standing commitment. Tagliabue was in Buffalo to attend the Bills' victory over the Detroit Lions and meet with a number of the league's Canadian business partners.
Tagliabue's predecessor, the late Pete Rozelle, was not in Chicago when Payton broke Jim Brown's record in 1984, and Smith said he wasn't the least offended that the commissioner wasn't there Sunday.
"I'm not surprised, he's a busy man," Smith said. "The record was going down whether he was here or not. I don't care. It was more important to have 64,000 people see it at Texas Stadium. But I'm going to send him a fine for not calling me yet."
Smith woke up this morning with a remote clicker in his hand, the better to watch six channels on four TV sets and see his 11-yard, tackle-breaking run early in the fourth quarter that pushed him two yards past Payton's record of 16,726. He now is 17 yards clear of Payton, and among active players, his closest current pursuer is the Pittsburgh Steelers' Jerome Bettis, with 11,202.
Others with five or more years of experience who may eventually challenge include the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk (10,044), the New York Jets' Curtis Martin (9,619), the Tennessee Titans' Eddie George (8,250), the Cincinnati Bengals' Corey Dillon (6,811) and the Washington Redskins' Stephen Davis (5,418).
"There's a lot of guys out there I don't even know who may have a chance at this record," said Smith, in his 13th year and on pace for a record 12th straight 1,000-yard season. "As long as they're playing, they have a chance. It's a long process, and it's taken a long time. The next person who gets there will have no easy road. They'll have to preserve themselves physically to get there.
"It's not always going to be hunky-dory, peaches and cream. It's where you have to dig deep and believe in yourself. You have to stay true, stay committed and focused and lay it on the line. You have to play for the love of it, not the records."
And as for his own future? "I think I can go at least another two years. I have to see how I am physically and then we'll evaluate it."
NFL Note: Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Darrell Jackson was released from a hospital, one day after suffering a concussion that caused him to have a seizure in the locker room after the victory over the Cowboys. Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren said Jackson underwent a CT scan and tests on his head and neck Sunday and again today were negative. Additional tests were planned this week in Seattle, and Jackson's status for Sunday's home game against Washington was not immediately known. Holmgren said those tests would try to determine why Jackson had the seizure.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.