Emmitt Handy For 'Boys?

The grayish scar on Emmitt Smith's right hand starts just below the knuckle of his ring finger and stretches about 3 inches, almost reaching his wrist.

There's enough swelling that he can't completely make a fist. He often wears a soft cast, even when he showers. Wrapping his hand in plastic makes it difficult to scrub his left side.

But Smith discovered that by putting a washrag over the plastic he could stay clean and keep the cast dry. And, he figures, if he can solve that problem then there's got to be a way for him to be in the backfield Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys play the Arizona Cardinals.

"I'm going to be there," a defiant Smith said Wednesday before practicing for the first time since the injury. "I'm taking the trip and I expect to dress. And if I'm in uniform, I expect to play."

Wearing a protective glove, he took handoffs and caught the ball with ease and without pain.

"I thought he did real well today," Cowboys coach Chan Gailey said. "I don't know if he got banged or not. But it looks like it's a real positive for him to be in the game Sunday."

Smith suffered the first broken bone of his life on Nov. 8 when his hand got caught in the facemask of a Minnesota defender he was stiff-arming during one of the longest touchdown runs of his career.

His hand began throbbing when he returned to the bench, but a quick turnover by the Vikings forced him back onto the field. He scored again on the next play, then went to the locker room for X-rays.

A plate and six screws were inserted the next day. Doctors said he'd be out 3-6 weeks. He's determined to play 12 days after the operation.

"I'm going to see what happens this week," said Smith, whose 748 yards this season are fifth-best in the NFL and have moved him into No. 3 on the career rushing list, behind only Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.

"I'm going to go through practice and see what I can do with my hand, whether I can catch, whether I'll feel some pain and how much. From that standpoint the question becomes whether I can deal with the pain without it interfering with the way I play."

"But if it's bothering me to the point I don't want to deal with it no more, then I may not fool with it. It's just that simple."

Smith is testing a padded glove similar to the one used by Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp. Comfort is his primary concern.

"It seems to be a good glove, like it can work for me," Smith said.

Smith has two things working in his favor: he's always worn gloves, so that won't be an adjustment, and he carries the ball in his left hand.

But there are some obstacles.

"There re certain things I do with my right hand that has allowed me to be the back that I am, like breaking tackles, utilizing my right hand as a shield," Smith said. "Now when I stick it out there, it's injured and if it gets hit it can be different."

Hockey teams often diagnose broken right hands as sprained left ankles to prevent opponents from going after the damaged area. That's not the case in football, where teams are fined for not fully divulging practically every nick and bruise.

So Smith knows that whatever protection the glove provides, it also will serve as a target for the Cardinals.

"Hey, that's part of the game," he said. "They'd be foolish not to go after it. But we'll see and we will see."

Smith was in agony this past Sunday because he wasn't playing against Green Bay. It was only the fifth game he'd missed in his 10-year career; it ended up being the first time Dallas won without him.

"It made me sick, it really did," he said. "For the first series of the game, it was like I wasn't supportive. I was too busy sucking and licking my own wounds because I couldn't be out on the football field."

Smith's desire to return has helped him be a good patient. Knowing he had to keep the swelling down, he's devoutly kept his hand raised, even while sleeping. The stitches came out Tuesday and he's beginning to take off the soft cast at times, such as for Wednesday's practice.

"If we can continue to push the swelling out, I'm sure the flexibility and mobility will come back," Smith said. "Then, once they come back, it's a matter of strengthening the weak areas."

Smith held up his hand to demonstrate how close he can come to making a fist and how much he can twiddle his fingers.

Then he clasped both hands into a textbook interlocking golf grip.

"I can still do this," Smith said, smiling. "I'm thrilled about that."

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