As the Dallas Cowboys return to The Star in Frisco to finish up training camp in front of the home fans, the biggest storyline continues to be who is not on the practice field.
But in the annals of Cowboy history, AWOL running backs have become somewhat of a tradition.
Ezekiel Elliott has spent camp in Cabo training alone for the upcoming season and, although the destination was not as far, Emmitt Smith employed a similar tactic in 1993.
Video from the WFAA archive shows the Smith running drills through an empty stadium in Florida. The late Craig Sager, who would become known for his colorful suits while sideline reporting, caught up to him to ask if he had anything to say to owner Jerry Jones.
“Jerry, let’s get together and work this thing out. I’m willing to cooperate with you if you’re willing to cooperate with me,” said Smith.
It did not happen immediately.
The Cowboys played the first two games of the 1993 season without their star running back. They lost both games and a deal was struck to have Smith back in uniform the following week. The rest may have helped because he would win Super Bowl MVP honors later that season.
But long before Zeke and Emmitt, another star running back held out and was shown the door.
Duane Thomas was a key member of the Cowboys’ 1971 Super Bowl championship team, but he was unhappy with his pay and role on the team. When he missed practice at training camp in Thousand Oaks, California to start the 1972 season, legendary coach Tom Landry traded him to the San Diego Chargers.
“I felt it was time to give Duane another chance to work with another club. He has had a lot of problems with our club,” said Landry.
Film in the SMU Jones Film Library shows Verne Lundquist during his WFAA days reporting on the trade by saying “An era in Cowboys history is gone. And in a way, it is kind of sad.”