CNN-Sports Illustrated Is Reporting That Dallas Cowboys Fullback Darryl Johnston May Be Forced To Retire Because of a Neck Injury

CNN-SI has reported Johnston will undergo surgery to repair a bulging disk in his neck and miss the rest of the season.

Doctors have told Johnston that he risks paralysis if he plays again after the surgery, the cable television service reported Thursday night.

However, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that nothing was definite.

``All those types of things _ surgery, retirement _ are premature at this point,'' he told CNN-SI. ``In the morning, they may not be true.''

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple, contacted after the broadcast report, said the team stands by its announcement from earlier Thursday.

``His situation will require input and review from several parties, and because of that, no long-term decision will be announced until all the scenarios will be made clear,'' the statement said. ``There is no time frame set at this point.''

Johnston, 31, has played in every regular-season game since 1989 _ 134 straight. However, ``the Moose'' has been plagued by neck and shoulder pain recently. The pain has worsened to the point that Jones said Wednesday that Nicky Sualua will substitute for him against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

The 5-foot-11, 256-pound Sualua was taken in the fourth round of the 1997 draft as the heir apparent to Johnston. He was academically ineligible as a senior at Ohio State but started the final 10 games of his junior year in 1995 and finished with 106 yards on 18 carries. He also caught 17 passes for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

``Right now, it's a little quicker than I thought, but I'm ready to step in there and do my job,'' Sualua said.

Johnston's injury is the latest in a chain of agonies for an offense already without the services of left tackle Mark Tuinei, 37. Doctors said Wednesday that Tuinei will be out at least two weeks after spraining his knee in Monday night's 21-16 loss to Washington.

Without Tuinei and Johnston, it will be even more difficult for running back Emmitt Smith, who has yet to score a touchdown this season. Smith, No. 3 on the NFL's career rushing touchdown list, is in the midst of an eight-game touchdown drought _ the longest of his career, and Dallas is the only team in the NFL that hasn't had a rushing touchdown this season.