SOME PEOPLE just have it. Twenty-five-year-old Dallas Cowboy
running back Emmitt Smith has it. What is it? The ability to take
natural talent, refine it, focus it, dedicate it and then run with
it into the tunnel of life and come out a winner.
In his five years in the NFL, the 5 ft. 9 in., 209-pound Smith has
run for 7,183 yards, has led the league in rushing three times and
has earned the Offensive Player of the Year Award (1993), Super Bowl
MVP (1994) and so many other superlatives that winner is attached to
his back as surely as his double-deuce jersey number. He is so
critical to the Cowboy offense that without him the Dallas attack
wilts like a flower on a hot plate. ''If ((Cowboy quarterback)) Troy
Aikman is out, his replacement can just hand Emmitt the ball and
watch the options open up,'' says New York Giant linebacker Corey
Miller. ''But if Emmitt is out, defenses can pin their ears back and
go after the quarterback. There is no one to replace Emmitt.''
No sir. And it has been like that from the get-go. Smith's mother,
Mary, recalls the time when she and her husband, Emmitt Jr., a bus
driver, were watching TV, and nine-month-old Emmitt III came crawling
across the floor. ''Just a little baby, and already he could climb
out of his crib,'' she still marvels. That strength and agility would
grow to serve young Emmitt well on the football field. At Escambia
High in Pensacola, Fla., he ran for 100 yards or more in 45 of his 49
games, including the last 28 in a row, and scored 106 touchdowns. He
was the Parade and Gatorade/Scholastic Coaches Magazine National High
School Player of the Year in 1986; but even so, not everyone was
convinced that he could play at the highest level of college
''Emmitt isn't a franchise player,'' said national recruiting guru
Max Emfinger at the time. ''He's a lugger, not a runner. The thing is
that sportswriters blew him all out of proportion.'' Nice call. In
his first start as a freshman at Florida, Smith carried the ball 39
times for 224 yards, a school rushing record. During his stint as
coach at Miami, Jimmy Johnson had recruited Smith, and when, as coach
of the Cowboys, he had another chance to get him, he made sure he
did. Dallas drafted him with the 17th pick in 1990.
Through high school, college and now with the Cowboys, Smith's
running style has been that of a darting, twisting, never-say-die
wind-up toy. The play begins; there's a blur, a broken tackle or two,
a pileup; and when it's over, he has moved the ball farther downfield
than seemed possible. He is like a juicer that somehow squeezes a
glassful of o.j. from a single orange.
< Intangibles are the thing with Smith -- the aforementioned it.
Stats and records ''don't tell you what kind of football player you
are,'' Smith says. ''The way I see it, my talent came from God. What
I add is my desire. I have great desire.''
Desire is what kept Smith plugging away in the 1993 regular-season
finale against the Giants, in which he gained 168 yards rushing and
61 receiving to lead the Cowboys to an inspired 16-13 overtime win.
He did all that with his right arm dangling pitifully at his side, as
he had separated his right shoulder in the second quarter.
Smith is also blessed with superhuman vision; he sees the action
on the field as if it were being presented in slow motion on a giant
television screen. ''When I line up, I don't see the wide receivers
or the cornerbacks, but I see everybody else,'' he says. ''It's a
clear picture.'' At times during high school games, Smith says, he
had the field so well mapped out in his mind that ''I'd run to the
hole with my eyes closed.''
His extraordinary vision extends into the future, too. ''There's
so much more I need to accomplish,'' he says. ''I have so much more
room to grow, both as a player and as a person. If you're satisfied,
Emmitt Smith is just beginning.
This is an article from the Feb. 9, 1995 issue