About 10 years ago, we were sitting at a baseball game when our father, a man not given to hyperbole, was asked to name the best ballplayer he'd ever seen. He didn't hesitate: Mickey Mantle, he said. Then this well-educated, jaded, late-middle-aged man got a dreamy look in his eyes and began to talk about The Mick in the most mythical way, searching for words that could explain his diamond glory. "In cleats," our father finally said, "he was better than you can dream a man could be." We suspect that, 30 or 40 years from now, we will react much the same way when our children or grandchildren ask us to describe Emmitt Smith. We'll do what most people do when describing Smith. We'll start by detailing what he wasn't--he wasn't the fastest running back we'd ever seen (that would be Bo Jackson), the most powerful (Earl Campbell), the most dazzling (Barry Sanders), the most durable (Walter Payton), the best blocking running back...well, actually, he was the best blocking back we've ever seen. But he was more than that, more than just an average-speed back who never seemed to get caught from behind, more than a cog in the Cowboys' Super Bowl machines. He was...he was simply...this is where words will fail. Because it will be impossible to fully relate Emmitt Smith's greatness, no matter our advances in vocabulary. Unless you saw him that Monday night when he bounced through the Atlanta defense like a silver-and-blue pinball, unless you saw him methodically destroy the New York Giants' will with one good arm in 1994, unless you saw him burst through the Washington Redskins defense until only the speedy Darrell Green could chase him down, then watched, amazed, as he turned and tossed Green, a sure Hall of Famer, aside with a straight right arm to the chest...well, you'll never be able to dream a man could be that complete a football player. The reason we all watch sporting events is to catch a first glimpse at athletic endeavors that are not heroic (as they're often described) but are without a doubt transcendent. Emmitt Smith has provided such moments to Dallas Cowboy fans for more than a decade, and continues to do so even now, in the twilight of his career. Perhaps the simplest words are the best to describe him: When asked, we'll just say he was the greatest running back ever. Our offspring will just have to trust us.