Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith were “my guys” in my early years.
Dorsett taught me how a small guy can thrive in a land of giants. And Emmitt taught me that the genuine, strongest, biggest man on the field is not always the tallest or the heaviest. “ES22″ (as I coined Smith in 1998) projected weekly as a man amongst boys in an arena where real men exist in bunches. Emmitt topped them all.
Unlike today, 1986 was pre-world wide web and the USA Today was but 3 to 4 years old and it was the main method to see where the high school talent was headed on February college signing day.
Usually, two months before they would sign, the American-Statesman Sunday paper (Parade Magazine) would list the 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-strings of the Parade Magazine All-American team. Then, a few weeks later, the USA Today would announce their High School All-American team.
Going strictly off of memory, so I apologize if I get this incorrect, the article announcing the Parade All-Americans of the 1986 was 50% a roster press release and the other 50% was a feature writing piece about this running back out of Escambia High in Pensacola, Florida. This guy finished his career in 2nd place in the national high school records books for most yards and had over 100 touchdowns. He was magically elusive and hard to tackle. However, the article did not list his height or weight. In 1986, this was all I had to go off of from 1000 miles away in Austin Texas. At the time the standard in football was Herschel Walker, who stood about 6-1 and 225 pounds. I remember conjuring up an image of mega-Herschel living in Pensacola, a kid that must have gone 6-3 and 240 pounds with the DNA of Jim Brown. Unfortunately, the article mentioned he was planning to go play for Galen Hall and be a Gator. [My, my, my, times haven't changed much, have they? Those darn gators!] And of course, this running back was named the Parade Magazine player of the year. I thought to myself: if only he could play on my team.
Then, a few weeks later, reality hit me in the face. Upon dropping down my 50 cents to pick up a copy of the USAToday, there he was . . . wearing an orange and blue Escambia High School uniform, his image spanning the height of the tabloid. Emmitt Smith had been announced as the USA Today high school player of the year. But get this, he was not the same size as Larry Csonka, Jim Brown, Christian Okoye, Marion Motley and John Riggins. No, no, no— Emmitt James Smith stood 5-9. (Heck, I’m 5-9!) And at 200 pounds dripping wet, I could not understand how he was constantly described as “hard to bring down” and he “normally breaks two or more tackles every time he carries the ball”. That’s more of an Earl Campbell descript than one of a 5-9, 200 pound kid who only breaks the 4.6 barrier on the 40 with wind gusts on his back.
In the fall of 1987, after signing with the Gators in February, Emmitt was given his first start as a true freshman in week 3 —- I remember the game however I decided to research this part to get the stats correct—- as Florida traveled into Birmingham to play the heavily favored Alabama Crimson Tide. In ES-22′s first start, he broke the Gators single game rushing record that stood for 40 years! And after upsetting Bama via his 39 carries and 224 yards, I was sold … I witnessed his talent and skill, and I was dejected as I thought to myself: if only he could play on my team.
For three season’s, minus a knee injury that sidelined him for a good portion of his sophomore campaign, Emmitt was the best running back in college. But, when Florida hired pass-happy Steve Spurrier, Emmitt decided to leave school early and enter the NFL draft. Many scouts said he was making a big mistake by leaving college as a junior.
Despite his collegiate success, some NFL teams still felt that Smith was too small and slow for the pro game. But, I knew if Emmitt was just given the right opportunity to show his ablity, the rest would fall into place. I watched the draft, as team after team drafted players that I thought weren’t half the player that Emmitt was . . . and I kept thinking to myself: if only he could play on my team.
But my team did not have a pick on the horizon, and I knew that the knocks against ES-22: small, slow, injured in college, and that he was not a pro-style back, were not going to drag him down into the 2nd round.
And, as a matter of fact, I was correct. Because, a certain coaching staff in the NFL had the privilege of trying to recruit Emmitt back in high school. They liked his talent, productivity, leadership and his big heart. And even though this NFL staff that was the former staff of the Miami Hurricanes did not secure the services of Floridian Emmitt Smith in a college uniform, they recognized this special player was falling down the draft board from a no-chance-in-hell-because-we-have-nothing-we-can-package-together to now becoming a lets-make-some-phone-calls-because-he-is-still-on-the-board. Meanwhile, I sit in my bedroom, with the 19-inch TV tuned in as I studied for an junior-year kinesiology exam while listening to Chris Boomer Berman [yes, that Chris Berman was around back then too] on ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft …. all the while, I’m thinking to myself: if only Jerry and Jimmy could find some f%#king way so he could play on my team.
The rest is history:
As a 23-year old man nearly spilled his soft drink when it was announced that his team was “ON THE CLOCK” somehow did not prepare him for the total lack of coordination as he tipped his paper plate with PB&J sandwich & chips to the floor over his elation and youthful cockiness while he yelled “Damn Straight! Damn Straight”. He then leapt and high-fived his 8-foot high popcorn ceiling as his brother walked in and asked for an explanation. He then replied, “dude, we are a 1-15 team . . . chill.”
I replied, “Not anymore. Not anymore!”
Emmitt Smith fell to the 17th pick in the first round, when he was picked by my team, who had traded up to draft him.
Emmitt Smith was the first player in NFL history to have five consecutive seasons with over 1,400 rushing yards. Smith, Jim Brown, and LaDainian Tomlinson are the only players with seven straight 10-touchdown seasons to start their careers. With 1,021 rushing yards in 2001, Smith became the first player in NFL history with 11 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and the first to post 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons in a career.
Smith also accumulated a number of NFL postseason records, including rushing touchdowns (19), consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (9) and 100-yard rushing games (7). His 1,586 yards rushing is also top on the NFL postseason chart, and he shares the total playoff touchdown mark of 21 with Thurman Thomas. With the Cowboys, Smith won three Super Bowl rings and rushed for over 100 yards in two of those games, Super Bowl XXVII (108 yards and a touchdown, along with 6 receptions for 27 yards), and Super Bowl XVIII (132 yards and two touchdowns, along with 4 receptions for 26 yards). Smith received the Super Bowl MVP award for Super Bowl XXVIII, becoming the only Cowboys running back ever to win the award out of all their Super Bowl wins.
Smith is one of only five NFL players who have amassed over 10,000 career-rushing yards and 400 career receptions. Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice are the only two non-kickers to score 1000 points in a career.
It’s a thrill and privilege to have followed ES-22 through his career. And it’s an honor to see him climb every mountain that the football landscape can place before a running back. To me, he is my Paul Bunyan an his blue ox was his offensive line of blue oxen who were among his best of friends.
For those of you who do not know the real Emmitt Smith due to youth . . . I would inquiry, maybe your Emmitt is a highlight reel, or an Arizona Cardinals two-year stint, or an October 2002 home game against Seattle (that Randy Maltz and I sat together at Texas Stadium for that historic game.) None of these memories are my Emmitt.
My Emmitt was a 16-13 overtime win over the Giants in the final game of the 1993 season when he played with a separated shoulder. In intense pain, every play in overtime was given to Emmitt as he single handedly moved his team into field goal range which enabled Dallas to secure home field advantage through the playoffs.
My Emmitt was a Super Bowl XXVIII beast that in a 13-13 3rd-quarter tie, he commanded the team to jump on his back as he took a drive that started on the Dallas 36 and had runs of 9, 3, 9, 7, 14, 4 on consecutive plays to set up Dallas at 2nd-and-6 on the Buffalo 18. After a 3-yard pass from Aikman to Moose, immediately Dallas went back to Emmitt on 3rd-and-3. Fifteen yards later, Emmitt stood tall in the endzone and the Cowboys never looked back, as the routed Buffalo 30-13. Many players have had a single play that changes the Super Bowl . . . an interception, a long reception, etc. To this day, that 8-play sequence is the greatest example in my opinion, of a single player dominating a whole drive (as well as his opponent) on the greatest stage in all of sports. Seven of eight plays, and 61 of 64 yards.
Thank you ES-22,