BEFORE HE was a Dancing with the Stars champion, Emmitt Smith won three Super Bowls as a running back with the Dallas Cowboys. He also rushed for an NFL record 18,355 yards in a 15-season career and landed on 11 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers. In conversations with SI's Arash Markazi, Smith reflected on the circumstances surrounding eight of those issues.
1989 (NOV. 27)
"My first cover! And here I was being mentioned with the other players as a Heisman candidate," says Smith. "I was excited. I was a junior [at Florida], which ended up being my last year there. André Ware wound up winning the Heisman—he had a smoking year in that run-'n'-gun offense [at Houston]. I talk to André occasionally, but I haven't seen Major Harris, Tony Rice or Anthony Thompson recently. I hope they're all doing well."
1993 (JAN. 25)
"This cover meant a lot—my first by myself," Smith recalls. "This game meant so much to the Cowboys in terms of changing the guard from the 49ers dynasty to us. The cover signifies how the game was played: between the tackles and in the mud. Our line opened running lanes, and I took advantage [in Dallas's 30--20 win]. It was so [muddy] and also the night before there was an earthquake. It was a weekend I'll never forget."
1994 (JAN. 31)
"This was the second straight year we played the 49ers," Smith says. "There was a stink because [Cowboys coach] Jimmy Johnson said we would win, and you could put it in bold letters. We were guaranteeing a victory! [Dallas won, 38--21.] I can't tell you the magnitude of those games against the 49ers. Jerry Rice and Steve Young playing against a young, talented, brash Cowboys team not willing to back down."
1994 (FEB. 7)
Says Smith of Super Bowl XXVIII, which Buffalo led 13--6 before Dallas won 30--13. "[At halftime] we said, 'Man, we have our backs against the wall.' Then Coach said we'd start running more. The cover is the touchdown that gave us the lead. A guy's coming at me from the left, and I'm trying to stiff-arm him to get into the end zone. I fell in after he pushed me. We then felt we had gained control and nothing could stop us."
1994 (AUG. 1)
"Troy [Aikman] and I took the shot in training camp, and I guess they added in Barry [Switzer] later. This was a trying time because Jimmy [Johnson] had just gotten fired for no apparent reason. Everyone was bummed. How do you win back-to-back Super Bowls and get fired? At the shoot the photographer asked us to look at each other. We gave a, 'What? Are we sure about this?' look."
1994 (DEC. 12)
"We were the talk of the nation. This cover says a lot about the personalities, the coaches, the families, the commitment. You see all that, and you see the performance [Smith carrying the ball]. When you look at it all, you see what it takes to be a good team. It got to be too much actually. You hear that everyone loves a champion, but when you become a champion two, three times, people just want to go against you."
1996 (JULY 1)
"I really like this picture," says Smith, who in the inside story talked about the thrill of owning his first house. "It was me opening up my house and my life to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and giving everyone an opportunity to come in and see what the life of Emmitt Smith was like. It was a fun time in my life, when people wanted a part of me and wanted to see that [off-the-field] aspect of my life, and I was happy to show it."
1997 (OCT. 13)
"A disappointing cover," says Smith, who at the time had 426 yards in five games. "Before the season I had a severely sprained ankle. I also got bone [spurs] in my ankle, but at the time nobody knew. I didn't know. It was a trying year, and everyone questioned my ability. But I got my ankle cleaned up [after the season], and we made the playoffs the next two seasons. I made the Pro Bowl those seasons as well."