- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Emmitt Smith called his career "a tremendous ride." That ride, which allowed Smith to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher, ended Thursday when he announced his retirement at Super Bowl XXXIX.
His retirement was at the right place and the right time. First, it was announced in Jacksonville near the home in Pensacola, Fla., where he was raised. Second, he announced that even though he spent the past two years in Arizona, he will retire a Dallas Cowboy.
"It's only fitting for me to leave the game of football and move on with my life, and retire as a Dallas Cowboy," Smith said. "That is the plan and that is what is going to happen. I just want to say, it's been a tremendous ride."
Smith opened by naming a long list of people to thank going back to high school. When he started naming his Cowboys teammates through the years, Smith broke down in tears. He broke down even more when he got to the name of his fullback Daryl Johnston, who blocked for him for many of his best years.
"Daryl, I love you to death," he said as he fought back the tears.
He thanked almost every coach and most of the assistants who worked with him. He even jokingly thanked former Cowboys halfback Troy Hambrick, who verbally challenged him for playing time during his final season in Dallas in 2002.
Smith entered the NFL as a back who was a little too short and a little too slow to be great. He proved everyone wrong. The Cowboys took the chance that he would be great. He was, becoming one of the greatest backs of all time.
"You don't know how much this star really means to me," Smith said, holding the Cowboys helmet and speaking to owner Jerry Jones. At 5-9½, and with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Smith was supposed to be a risk. Instead of a risk, the Cowboys gained a future Hall of Famer.
"I think (my career) has been one where I've given everything I could possibly give to the game," Smith said.
Smith played with a high pain tolerance during his 15-year career. He fought a major shoulder injury that required surgery and an ankle operation.
Smith's goal was to be a great running back and a great teammate, and he worked every day for 15 years to make his talents better. Jones related a story about Smith, as a rookie, who told his linebacker to move over because he was going to run to a specific spot.
"From Day 1, he had his eye on it, and he prepared himself in every way possible," Jones said. "He protected himself with his offseason conditioning. He used every advantage he could to make himself better."
Jones immediately accepted him back as a Cowboy. Smith has a 4-year-old son, E.J., who followed his father during his two years in Arizona.
"E.J. knows nothing about the Dallas Cowboys," Smith said. "All he knows is about that Cardinal bird."
Smith said he was willing to think about playing next year, but the Cardinals informed him that they wouldn't offer him a contract. A couple of other teams called this week, but Smith didn't want to move his family to a new NFL city.
In another month or two, he will sign a one-year contract with the Cowboys for the NFL minimum and then retire as a Cowboy.
Smith plans to get into broadcasting instead of coaching. He wants to support the game of football.
Smith denied rumors that he would be involved in a group bidding to buy the Minnesota Vikings, saying there was no truth to it.
The truth was that Smith had only one announcement -- his retirement as one of the NFL's greatest running backs.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Emmitt Smith will leave the NFL the way he came in -- with the Cowboys.