This is the eighth in a series of stories on the 2008 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The installments will appear in Saturday's editions of The Buffalo News.
The 2008 Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame has a wide range of inductees with extensive resumes, but not too many can say they played in front of NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. Daryl "Moose" Johnston, a Youngstown native, went from an All-American and valedictorian at Lewiston-Porter High School to being a Dallas Cowboys two-time Pro Bowl fullback.
His induction will be made final Wednesday, Oct. 29, but Johnston said with his busy schedule as a broadcaster he was worried about the date.
"My biggest fear is that it would be a Friday or a Saturday and I'd be working and couldn't go," he said, "but once I found out that I could go, that made it really exciting."
In his hometown, Johnston made his mark in 1983, when he was named Western New York Player of the Year. His Lew-Port jersey No. 34 is now retired. From there, Johnston moved east, playing for Syracuse. Shortly after being the elite fullback in Western New York, he was drafted in the second round by the Cowboys 1989.
Once in Dallas, Johnston not only played under coach Jimmy Johnson, but also alongside Troy Aikman, Herschel Walker, Michael Irvin, and was the blocking fullback for Smith. He became a full-time starter in 1991 and helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls.
"I've always felt that we had great talent, but we always had great chemistry," he said. "It transcended from the locker room relationship of teammates to friends. Jimmy [Johnson] did a great job of making 'your second family' and he went beyond that and created an atmosphere."
After playing eight years for the Cowboys, he was forced to take a seat during an Oct. 19, 1997 game with the Jacksonville Jaguars due to problems in his neck. A doctor later fused two herniated vertebrae, which inevitably would be the blame for the end of his career. Johnston hung up his cleats in 1999, after 10-plus seasons with the Cowboys.
"You know, at the time you wish you could go out on your own terms," Johnston said. "At the end of your career you're not 100 percent. . . . [The second neck injury] was kind of a blessing in disguise."
Johnston, who now lives in Plano, Texas, is now on another team. He is an analyst for "The NFL on Fox" broadcasts, but he has not been forgotten by his former teammates for his contribution to the sport as well as some of their personal careers. When Smith broke the NFL rushing record, he did a lap around the field at Texas Stadium and Johnston caught his eye. Smith gave him a teary-eyed hug and thanked him for making Smith's career what it was.
"We have a very unique relationship," Johnston said. "When he broke the record, I had people in my ear telling me to go down there. There were all of these people around. Then all of [a] sudden, everybody moved and he was about 15 feet away from me and we saw each other. It was very bizarre."
In addition to his role with Fox Sports, he's also extremely active in the fight for disabled NFL veterans. He has spoken on numerous occasions for the cause, and is helping to make small, yet important strides.
"If we can get this done it will be one of the most significant things I've ever been a part of. When you get involved with some of these things, and see how business is being done, it will really make you angry," Johnston said of the money being generated throughout the NFL. "We're losing players in their 50s and 60s, and there's no reason for that. . . . As long as we can keep the focus on what needs to be happening, I think we can get this done."
Looking back at his career and into the future on his induction, Johnston said it is unbelievable to think how differently things could have gone.
"I go back to the decision I made when I was 18 years old," he said. "Having good people around you to build your confidence, the entire life is kind of surreal. To sit here today, talking, I'm just thinking, 'Wow, what a wild ride.' "