IRVING, Texas -- The same type of numbness Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith experienced in his left elbow was also felt among the partisan Cowboys' crowd of 64,560 that filled Texas Stadium yesterday.
And as he left the stadium late in the game holding his elbow, grimacing in pain, the Cowboys' opportunity to win another Super Bowl started to fade in his shadow as he walked into the tunnel.
But it wasn't long before the Cowboys were celebrating a 34-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals -- and the good health of their most valuable player.
Smith's injury was diagnosed as only a bruise, and he is expected to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium.
"Everything is fine, fine, fine," said Smith, who had 116 yards rushing on 21 carries yesterday including two touchdown runs. "Will I be out of the lineup next week? No. No. No. I'm playing."
Smith went down with about 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game after a 4-yard gain off left tackle, and Dallas ahead, 27-13.
"I fell on the shoulder, on the bursitis area, and hit a nerve," said Smith. "I lost some feeling in my fingers for a little bit, and part of my lower arm. It was a scary moment. I had burst the bursitis sac earlier in the game, but everything was fine until I fell on it. I was really concerned, but everything turned out fine."
Smith's injury caused a lot of second guessing of Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, and why he had Smith and the other starters in the game with a comfortable lead.
After all, these were the Cardinals (1-3), who entered the game with the 29th-ranked offense and 27th-ranked defense in the league.
"No, I didn't think of taking Emmitt out of the game sooner," said a confident Switzer. "A couple of plays turn it around, and we would have had a whole new ballgame on our hands. It certainly wasn't ever boring."
Switzer had quick support from his players.
Said Smith: "I should be in the game until it's officially over, or a blowout. We were only up by 14 at the time. If they score, then get the onsides kick and score again, we have a tie game. As you saw, Arizona never gave up."
Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman said: "Whoever asks that question [about Smith] in this particular game doesn't know anything about the game of football. This game was never over."
Realistically, it ended almost a minute after Smith left. Smith's replacement, Sherman Williams, ran 44 yards for a touchdown with 2:37 remaining to put the Cowboys ahead, 34-13.
Arizona scored on a 25-yard pass from Dave Krieg to Rob Moore with 49 seconds left, but by then the major concern for the Cowboys was Smith.
"Emmitt was a little stung at the end, but the X-rays were negative," said Switzer. "He might be a little sore, might miss a practice or two, but he's OK.
"All phases of the football team played extremely well up until the very end," said Switzer, who has guided the Cowboys to a 4-0 start, the team's best since 1983. "We didn't finish up the game the way we should have. We got a little sloppy toward the end."
In the first half, though, Dallas was a machine, scoring on four of its first five possessions. On the ninth play of the game, Aikman threw a 50-yard pass to receiver Michael Irvin down to the Cardinals' 2. A play later, Aikman threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Novacek.
The Cowboys did almost everything they wanted to in the first half.
Smith had 88 yards on 13 carries with touchdown runs of 6 and 1 yards while Irvin had three receptions for 87 yards, and Aikman completed 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards. Dallas place-kicker Chris Boniol's 25-yard field goal with 1:03 left in the second quarter gave Dallas a 24-10 lead at the half.
But if Dallas has a weakness, it's in the secondary. Krieg completed 24 of 33 passes for 324 yards, and the Cowboys gave up passing plays of 45, 30 and 33 yards.
Deion Sanders better report soon.
"One of these times giving up big plays is going to hurt us," said Dallas defensive end Charles Haley. "We better wake up. We're not unbeatable, and if we had lost Emmitt, we would have returned to the pack."