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Silent, but deadly

Dolphins' Smith reluctantly in limelight after 40-carry game

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Posted: Sunday December 31, 2000 4:44 PM

  Lamar Smith The Dolphins may again look to Lamar Smith to carry the offensive load against the Raiders. AP

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- Lamar Smith had no time to talk about leading the Dolphins into the second round of the playoffs. There were sore muscles to tend to, and scars he preferred to keep private.

Besides, Smith's performance Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts spoke for itself. He carried a playoff-record 40 times for a team-record 209 yards and two touchdowns, including a 17-yard run in overtime to give Miami a 23-17 victory.

He has been wary of publicity ever since joining the Dolphins in March. Team officials say his reticence stems from his role in a 1994 car accident that left Seattle Seahawks teammate Mike Frier partially paralyzed.

Smith, the driver, admitted he had been drinking, pleaded guilty in 1998 to vehicular assault and was sentenced to four months in jail. He hasn't discussed the accident publicly this season.

"It's something unfortunate that could have happened to anybody," tackle Richmond Webb said Sunday. "I'm glad he has been able to put it behind him. He's had a great year."

The 30-year-old journeyman is perhaps the most valuable player for the post-Dan Marino Dolphins, instantly transforming them into a running team. He has a knack for breaking tackles, and many of his 1,139 yards rushing this season came after the initial hit.

For the first time the Dolphins (12-5) have a ball-control offense to go with their dominant defense, which makes them a formidable threat in the playoffs. They play Saturday in Oakland (12-4).

Coaches and players admit they're surprised that the Dolphins' perennial search for a ground game ended with Smith. Seattle released him in 1997, and when New Orleans cut him after last season, Miami was the only team to express interest.

"I didn't think he was the answer," linebacker Zach Thomas said. "I got a surprise big-time."

"He's the most underrated player in the NFL," guard Mark Dixon said.

That's partly because of Smith's aversion to publicity. He's as elusive off the field as on it, and the chair at his locker sat empty Sunday while reporters and TV cameras waited in vain.

With teammates, Smith is popular but hardly chatty.

"I don't think I've heard him say 14 words since I've known him," defensive end Jason Taylor said.

Smith arrived in Miami amid doubts about his durability. Those seemed comical Saturday, when he sprained his left ankle in the first quarter but kept running. He accounted for 40 yards on the winning touchdown drive and bulled into the end zone on his 40th carry, taking cornerback Jeff Burris with him.

"It just shows you -- you pound on a team and pound on a team, and those 4- or 5-yard runs turn into 15-yard runs," tight end Jed Weaver said. "I guarantee you their defensive backs didn't want to see him at the end of the game."

Smith won his showdown with NFL rushing leader Edgerrin James by more than 100 yards. He also eclipsed Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka, whose Miami postseason record of 145 yards rushing stood for 27 years.

After the game, Smith turned down requests to appear on network TV or at a news conference. At his locker he spoke in a near-whisper.

"I stay pretty quiet," he said. "Nothing needs to be said."


 
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Dolphins' Fiedler a success in first playoff game
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SI's Banks: Miami rides RB Smith to wild-card victory
What We Learned: Colts-Dolphins
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