Cardinals give Smith another chance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 27, 2003

PHOENIX - The NFL's career rushing leader believes he still has some yards left in those 33-year-old legs. The Arizona Cardinals sure hope so.

Released by Dallas last month, Emmitt Smith agreed to terms with the Cardinals on Wednesday, moving from one of the league's most storied franchises to one of its most downtrodden.

''Emmitt will start,'' coach Dave McGinnis said, adding that he will also help break in Marcel Shipp, who led the Cardinals in rushing last season in his second year.

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Smith will wear the same No. 22 he wore with the Cowboys.

The Cardinals said Smith got a two-year contract, but did not disclose terms. It was believed to be worth about $4 million a year.

A starting job was one of the things Smith had sought and one of the things the Cowboys couldn't guarantee when they released him Feb. 27 after 13 seasons and 17,162 yards.

But Smith's other desire - winning again after three Super Bowl victories in Dallas - may not be so easy. Arizona finished 5-11 last season and has been one of the NFL's consistently losing franchises - it has one playoff victory since 1947.

Smith contributed to the Cardinals' woes over the years. He scored 25 career touchdowns against them, his highest total versus an opponent.

Overall, Smith ranks No. 1 in NFL history with 153 rushing TDs.

Smith, who will turn 34 on May 15, failed to reach 1,000 yards this season for the first time since his rookie year in 1990, gaining 975 yards.

Smith rushed for over 100 yards in only two games, including the one with Seattle on Oct. 27 in which he broke Walter Payton's career rushing record of 16,726.

NFL owners meetings

PHOENIX (AP) - NFL owners changed nothing.

The league closed its annual spring meeting Wednesday by voting down a proposal to give both teams a shot at the ball in overtime. And it tabled a proposal to expand the playoffs from 12 teams to 14.

The plan to change the overtime rule got 17 votes, seven short of the 24 required for passage.

''They made the decision because the current system presents a tremendous reward or risk. That's something that adds a lot of excitement to the game,'' said Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian, who helped convince the other teams by citing the Colts' 23-20 win overtime win over the Broncos in the Denver snow.

The expansion of the playoffs got more support than either commissioner Paul Tagliabue or competition committee chairman Rich McKay expected.

But it was tabled until the league's May meeting in Philadelphia because, Tagliabue said, the league had to study the ramifications for both competition and television coverage involved in adding two wild-card teams.

Some teams also are concerned that only one team would have a bye under the proposed system. And both Tagliabue and McKay noted it was a change in an agreement to wait two years with the new eight-division alignment before tinkering with the playoffs.

''We had no problems last year with the alignment,'' said McKay, Tampa Bay's general manager. ''The teams that made the playoffs were the teams with the best records.''

The change in overtime was proposed after a record 25 games went into an extra session last year. Ten of those were won by a team on its first possession and 58 percent were won by the team that won the coin toss at the start of the OT.

One of those was the game in Denver, which seemed to sway many teams.

In that contest, which was televised nationally, the Colts' Mike Vanderjagt tied the game with a 54-yard field goal in regulation. Indianapolis then won the coin toss in overtime and moved the ball far enough for Vanderjagt to try a 51-yarder into the wind, which he made.

Polian said that if it wasn't sudden death, coach Tony Dungy certainly would have chosen to punt; he sent the punting team on the field until Vanderjagt convinced him to try the field goal.

''That game made our season,'' Polian said. ''It's probably the main reason we made the playoffs. If there had been two possessions, a defensive-minded coach like Tony certainly would have tried to pin them back. That would have been the right call. But the reward for kicking was much greater - we won the game on the spot.''

In another move, the league changed the rules involving onside kicks in the final five minutes of games.

In the past, if a ball did not go 10 yards, went out of bounds, or was touched illegally, the kicking team was penalized, but had a chance to kick again from five yards back.

Under the new rule, the receiving team will have the option of accepting the penalty and getting the ball immediately - without the kicking team having a second chance to try an onside kick.

The new rule will only be in effect during the final five minutes of a game as a concession to coaches who feared teams would stop trying surprise onside kicks.

The owners also spent considerable time discussing racial diversity in hiring practices. There was no agreement, however, on what discipline to take against the Detroit Lions, who hired coach Steve Mariucci without meeting the new guidelines to interview at least one minority candidate.

The Lions said that five prospective black candidates turned them down because it was clear that Mariucci was the first choice for the job.