Smith rushes to Canton with heartfelt message
CANTON, Ohio – Gil Brandt meant the phrase in football terms. Instead, the former scout/personnel director came up with a poetically graceful way to describe Emmitt Smith.
“Emmitt Smith carried the uniform well,” Brandt said.
On Saturday night, Smith carried himself and his new uniform, the gold jacket from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with the grace that defined his 15-year career. Smith spoke with passion and conviction as he was inducted to the Hall, shedding tears and expressing his deep thanks to teammates. More than anything, Smith delivered a speech from the heart, almost never glancing to his notes nor stammering through any passage.
It is exactly how Smith carried his uniform during his record-setting career with the Dallas Cowboys. Smith highlighted the seven inductees with a speech that brought his former teammates, not to mention the fans at Fawcett Stadium, to their feet.
Smith named every offensive lineman he ever played with, and singled out former teammates and Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman.
“Without you there is no me,” Smith said to Irvin and Aikman. “That’s why we are called ‘The Triplets.’ You cannot have one without the other. Troy, your leadership, dedication and focus helped me become a better football player because I did not want to let you down. Michael, your work ethic, your passion, your love for this sport helped me learn to train and prepare myself differently.”
Smith saved the most gracious part of his speech for fullback Daryl Johnston, who had the duty of playing a largely anonymous role on those Cowboy teams. Johnston, known admiringly as “Moose,” was a vicious blocker. Or as Brandt put it: “Emmitt was one of the greatest running backs ever at running the lead draw … because of Daryl Johnston.”
Johnston was one of the last of a dying breed. Over the past 10 years, the fullback position has faded as teams have gone more to three- and four-receiver sets. There may never be another Daryl Johnston. On Saturday, Smith put his teammate on a pedestal.
“You mean the world to me,” Smith said, tears streaming down his face as he looked at Johnston in the sea of more than 19,000 people. “People don’t understand what it took to be a fullback in our system, the sacrifices you made not simply with your body but your whole spirit. You took care of me as though you were taking care of your little brother.
“Without you, I know today would not have been possible. I love you from the bottom of my heart.”
It was a perfect sendoff by a man who holds the NFL rushing record with 18,355 yards, breaking the mark held by Walter Payton – a record Smith aimed to break when he started as a 21-year-old rookie with the Cowboys.
“I was his roommate [in Smith’s rookie year],” Irvin said. “We were sitting in our dorm room at training camp one night and he said that and I was thinking to myself, ‘Who is this crazy cat?’ ”
Smith wasn’t exactly crazy, but he was driven to levels most players never comprehend. His drive, much like that possessed by fellow inductee Jerry Rice, drove him past what most people thought was the limit of his talent.
“He was a smallish, 199-pound running back who had good, but not great, speed. He had good, but not great, quickness,” Brandt said, running through a scouting report as if he was going into a draft room. “He had a really strong lower body and he was a great, great competitor.
“When I say great competitor, I mean really, truly great.”
That quality allowed Smith to outdistance the likes of Payton, a man Smith emulated as he prepared for his career. Smith didn’t have the absurd quickness and ability to change direction like Barry Sanders. He didn’t have the sprinter speed of O.J. Simpson. He didn’t have the size and speed of Eric Dickerson. He didn’t have the explosiveness of Gale Sayers.
While many critics consider those guys better runners, Smith outdistanced them all when it came to production. Morever, Smith has more titles than them combined.
Smith also had a record 164 rushing touchdowns and helped lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.
“Emmitt’s heart wouldn’t let us fall apart,” Irvin said. “He was the heart of our team, this little guy running right in the middle of all those big ol’ bodies, never going down, never stop running, never stop beating.”
Smith’s speech digressed for a moment into a Tony Robbins-like monologue about goal-setting. He also failed to mention his alma mater, the University of Florida, which isn’t going over well with Gators fans. Nevertheless, his speech was instructive about a man who had a vision of what his life was supposed to be.
“I know it was ordained by God,” Smith said. “And because of this, he has predestined me to do great things in life. The Dallas Cowboys have given me that platform.
“That’s why I did everything I could … to make this team the very best it could be.”
On Saturday night, Smith did it again. As he did for his career, Smith carried the uniform well.