- Emmitt Smith of Dallas Cowboy fame hasn't played football in 18 years, yet he still holds the NFL record in career rushing yards, a record he broke in 2002.
He leads all running backs with 164 career rushing touchdowns.
He is one of only four players in NFL history to eclipse the 21,000 combined yards mark.
But Emmitt Smith was often underestimated, labeled too small, too slow by those supposedly in the know.
Where did it start for Emmitt Smith, and what has he done since football?
We sat down with him on a recent visit to Midland.
I'm Becky Ferguson, and this is "One Question."
(soft dramatic music) (soft dramatic music continues) Emmitt Smith by the numbers: he holds the NFL record in career rushing yards with 18,355.
He leads all running backs with 164 career rushing touchdowns.
The total of his rushing yards, receiving yards, 3,224, and fumble return yards, -15, gives him a total of 21,564 yards from the line of scrimmage, making him one of only four players in NFL history to eclipse the 21,000 combined yards mark.
With the Cowboys, Smith won three Super Bowl rings and rushed for over 100 yards in two of those games.
He received the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award for Super Bowl XXVIII, becoming the only Cowboys running back ever to win the award.
And it would be a mistake to leave unmentioned his 2006 winning season of "Dancing With the Stars."
But there is more to Emmitt Smith than numbers.
He was born and grew up in the projects of Pensacola, Florida in a big family.
His father drove a bus.
His mother was a documents clerk.
He played his first organized football game at the age of eight.
He went on to play high school football, for which he scored 106 touchdowns.
For his efforts, Smith was named the "USA Today" and "Parade" magazine High School Player of the year in 1986.
But despite his accomplishments, a college recruiting analyst called him, "Too small, too slow," and predicted he would fall flat on his face.
We know he didn't, going on to play for the University of Florida, where, in his first college start, he broke Florida's 57-year-old all-time single game rushing record.
Smith left after three years and was drafted by the Cowboys where he played for 13 years.
He then played two years for the Arizona Cardinals, then announced his retirement.
He signed a one-day contract for $1 with the Cowboys, after which he immediately retired with the team he had played for the most of his career.
Smith has since enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, successfully transitioning from football to business, including real estate, construction, development, and recently, racing.
On a recent visit to Midland, we sat down with Emmitt Smith.
Emmitt Smith, thank you so much for being with us.
I wanted to talk about some of the themes that have made you successful in your life, things like work ethic and vision and tenacity and determination.
You're underestimated, some time you have been, but you always proved them wrong.
So I wanna kind of talk about how you got where you are, and so I'm gonna roll back the hands of time and I want you to talk about your childhood, about growing up.
Tell me a little bit about your parents and your sibling and growing up in Florida.
- Well, growing up in Pensacola, Florida, I was the oldest boy of Mary and Emmitt Smith Jr. My sister, Marsha, is six years old than I am.
My half-sister, Connie, is six years old than I am as well.
But the family itself, we grew up with humble beginnings living in Mars Court, my sister Marsha did.
And I lived at, and my brother Erik and Emil, we all kind of grew up in a place called Attucks Court, which was the housing projects.
And we grew up on, you know, powdered milk and government cheese.
You know, just living the way we knew it.
And that's the life that we knew.
We knew family.
We knew that we had to share.
We grew up knowing that we had to have each other's back.
We grew up knowing that we had to make friends with the neighbors, the next-door neighbors or the folks who lived in the row housing below us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So we just grew up playing within the community and understanding that not only did we have rules and regulations, but we had to abide by those things and had to be respectful.
My grandparents, which is my father's parents, lived approximately three or four blocks away from where we grew up at.
And we'd frequent with them.
I'd frequent them quite a bit.
My grandmother was a paraplegic and my grandfather worked at a shipyard.
And so as I became an older child, I used stay over over their house with her while he was working late nights, whether it was 11:00 to 7:00 or 3:00 to 11:00, whatever it was, he did that work for Armstrong.
And so I took care of my grandmother and took care of her, protected her in the middle of the night if I needed to.
And that was probably around the age of 10 and 11 and 12 where I did a lot of, maybe a little bit 9, 10, 11, and 12.
But so I grew up with a little bit of responsibility in my hand, but also, you know, just the love of my family.
I mean, at the end of the day, I only knew what I knew.
And then I got exposed to this game called football along the way which brought in other elements of life.
Because in my neighborhood, we rarely saw white folk, except for if it was the insurance people coming through or someone like that, or the po-po coming in to get somebody.
We rarely ever saw it.
And then when I started playing football, color became more prevalent, interceding and interacting with color, white folk, Black folk, Hispanic folks, Asian folk, including Hawaiian people and Filipinos, et cetera, et cetera.
All that became part of the melting pot of what it took to make a football team.
And you started learning these things about just breaking down these racial barriers because these were my friends, these were my teammates, these were folks that had my back and I had their backs.
So I started to see beyond the field of what color was.
I saw all nothing but rainbow coalitions just coming together for one common goal: have fun as a child, play the game of football as a child, learn, grow experience, and just be the best that you possibly can.
And so that was just part of my growing up.
And then, I had many cousins to play football with too.
- Well, I understand you ran into some obstacles when you first started playing football and that you got big really fast.
And so I've read that your mother had to show up with a birth certificate.
- She did.
- Tell us about that.
- She did, but, I mean, I'm not gonna say I got big really fast.
I just was a big kid growing up.
I was very gifted early because I was groomed early with my cousins teaching us all the three-point stance.
When I'd see my cousins, I mean, I had cousins that were in high school when I was seven and eight years old playing high school football.
And they were teaching us the fundamentals of the game at a very, very young age.
Now, my size-wise, yes, I mean, I was very athletic.
I was thicker than most.
I was more well-coordinated than most and pretty strong, even as a young age.
And so when I showed up to some games and we had to weigh in, my mom had to show up with the birth certificate to prove that I was actually the age that I was and I wasn't just a fake certificate showing up.
I mean, it's amazing how grown people actually accuse younger people of breaking rules.
And I mean, you think I was thinking about that?
I was thinking that, "I'm 10 years old-" - "I wanna play football."
- "I wanna play football."
But some grown person actually thought that we were so strategic (Becky laughs) that we wanted to manipulate the system at the age of 10.
- 10 years olds are pretty strategic.
(laughs) - Yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I'm not even thinking strategically.
I'm trying to put two nickels together just to make a dime and trying to figure this thing out.
And but yet, some grown person was thinking that way.
And unfortunately, I mean, fortunately for us, I mean, I was the age I was.
But yeah, that happened.
And I also had to make a weight limit in order to play at my age group.
And back in the day, six, seven, and eight year olds could play together.
Nine and ten can play together.
11, 12 and 13 could actually play together.
And so well, 11, 12 could, and then 13 and 14 can actually play together because that's the beginning of high school at that time.
So we didn't have junior high football back in Florida like they have here in the state of Texas.
- Here, okay.
- And we went to high school from 9th through 12th, unlike some schools here go 10th through 12th- - Through 12th, yeah.
- because the schools are so big.
And so if you played varsity as a true freshman, you played as a true freshman.
You are the all time best running back, 18,355 yards gained, 164 yards rushing touchdowns, 4.6 average yards per carry over 15 years, 15 seasons.
I understand the average for running backs is two and a half years.
Excellence is hard.
Endurance is hard.
How did you do that?
- Longevity's even harder.
- I get asked that question quite a bit, and the answer is pretty simple to me, I mean, it's like God's grace and mercy.
I can't tell you why I was able to last.
I was built a certain way and I was given a certain amount of talent.
No man or woman is given no more and no less than what they can produce.
And what I was given, I maximized to the fullest.
And I had to learn that along the way.
I didn't just come out thinking like that.
I had to be taught and trained and had to have a love of humility in order to be taught and trained and to learn things that I did not know, and to trust that someone had my best interest at heart.
And someone was pushing me because they saw something in me that I did not see in myself.
And that required hard work and commitment and being focused and being dedicated to your mission and having the will and the fight to just fight for what you believe in and fight for yourself and wanting to do your job and do it to the best of your ability.
At the time, it wasn't my job.
It was what I wanted to do.
- Wanted to do.
- And it never became a job because it was always what I wanted to do.
- How much of that came from your parents and how much of it came from coaches that you encountered along the way?
- I think it's a combination of both.
I don't think one person has the complete manuscript to raise a child.
I think you learn different components through the different phases of life that you go through.
I mean, when my father was working and doing his thing with the city bus and my mom was doing her thing, somebody was teaching me something.
Whether it was my teachers, whether it was my junior high basketball coaches or my high school football coaches or high school teachers, et cetera, just somebody was giving me, and not only me, but other people life lessons because they were pouring into us in different ways.
So I'm a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child.
And that village is a slew of people.
And in order for that to take place, there has to be a level of trust on one side.
Well, coming from me, it had to be a level of trust and a level of humility.
And the humility is important because that's the only way you learn.
Because if you go into a situation thinking that you know it all, no matter how good you are, you just don't know it all.
There's things to learn along the way.
And I think that's important to receiving these life lessons and understanding where you can go with the talent that you actually have and believing that you can go there.
- The night that you broke the rushing record, you beat Peyton Manning's record.
- Walter Payton?
- Walter Payton, sorry, Walter Payton's record.
How did you celebrate?
- I celebrated with family.
It was hard to celebrate because we lost, (laughs) we lost that game, but it was hard to celebrate.
But I did, I found a way to just enjoy my family and enjoy the milestone that I was able just to achieve.
But it was hard because, you know, when you do something so unique and not many people in the world have had the opportunity to do that, you want to do it on the football field with the people that you began with.
Whether it's Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnson, my offensive linemen, all of them that was there in the beginning, you want to celebrate with all them.
And at that time, they all was not there.
- [Becky] Well, they weren't feeling like celebrating.
- Well, no, they wasn't there because- - They weren't there- - well, Michael was in town and Daryl was in town, but Troy wasn't.
Larry Allen was there, but Erik Williams wasn't, Mark Tuinei wasn't.
You know, some of the guys that helped set the foundation for me to go after that record was not there.
And not to mention we ended up losing the game.
So it's kind of hard to celebrate something that's truly a team sport, but an individual accomplishment, you know what I'm saying?
- Accomplishment, yeah, of course.
- But I found a way to do it, because my family was there and they got a chance to see it and they got a chance to experience history like no one else has experienced it before.
Now, my family has seen me break a whole lot of records.
They have seen that.
They've seen me do my thing at the University of Florida where, when I left school, I held 52 school records, and they seen me go to Super Bowls.
They seen a lot of different things, but this- - That's a big one.
- was something that set their son and their child apart from anybody else in the game.
That right there, I can only imagine how they felt.
And for me, that was the biggest joy I could ever receive.
- Well, and you still hold the record.
You have for more than 20 years.
Is anybody gonna break it?
- I hate to say no, because if a man did it before, another man can come back and do it again.
But the way the game is shifting, it makes it very difficult because there isn't a commitment to have a bell cow running back in today's game.
I am what you would call a throwback bell cow running back.
And the thing that made me, I wanna say good, was that the best ability is availability.
I was available, I was consistent for a long period of time.
I played hurt and I didn't miss a whole lot of games.
And so when you start looking at that, and I was dependable, I was accountable, I was consistent, all those things came into play.
And so when you look at that versus someone else, you can see the difference.
And I was the one that was getting them in steady batches, not getting them in bunches and not then boom, boom.
I was like, "Mm, I'm gonna wear you down mentally, then I'm gonna wear you down physically and emotionally.
You gonna be like, 'I can't, I'm done.
- Can't stop him.
Can't stop him.
(Emmitt laughs) Well, I'm interested in how you made a transition into civilian life, because not every successful player makes a successful transition.
You did, so can you tell us what you have been involved in in business?
- You know, today, I'm in the real estate services business, all the way through a full-service real estate firm.
Development, we do development, office, industrial, retail, mixed use, we do it all.
We have done it all and we can do it all.
I have a construction company as well.
Now, some of these things were birthed in me at the age of 11.
One of my coaches, Charlie Edgar, my Pop Warner coach, taught me how to read blueprints and floor plans at the age of 11 staying over his house one night, a white guy's house, the first time ever I stayed white guy's house, and seeing a home that size.
And his home was 3,600 square feet, a modest home in today's standard, a modest home in comparison to the home which I lived in and live in right now.
So seeing that gave me some inkling in terms of what I wanted to accomplish in life.
How I was going to get it was a story that had to be developed.
I'm just 11 years old, but I knew there was something out there that was different from which I come from.
And that was motivation by itself.
And so I grew up thinking and realizing that owning your own business was something that I could actually do because of the lens which I saw life through, which was his.
But also, as you grow up and you start to realize, as the Word would say, "Your talent will make room for you," you get a scholarship to go to the University of Florida, you start learning college things and how to apply these things into real life applications.
Then you meet people, then you're thrusted into this new world of financial freedom.
And financial freedom means you need to develop financial literacy along the way.
And then you start to have to trust people all around you to help manage not only your assets, but your finances, and then help also manage you.
Because even we all need to be managed some kind of way to understand that there has to be a plan of action.
And so even in that, as God would open up doors for me to meet guys like Jerry Jones, Roger Staubach, Earvin Johnson, Michael Jordan, Mark Cuban, many other multi-billionaire people, their mindset is completely different from which I come from, and which most people may have never been around a person like that, but they come to hear a person like that speak about what it took for them to become who they are.
And some of us have taken different pathways to get there, but we get to a place and what you learn is you start asking yourself, "Why not me?"
And so when it came to retirement, I'll never forget what Charlie Edgar told me, though, that day he was teaching me how to read blueprints and floor plans.
He said, "You have great talent and your talent can take you a long way.
But someday, that talent is going to diminish.
All you gonna have left is your name, your integrity, and your education, whatever that may be.
And so don't put all your eggs in one basket."
And I learned from that point on, from that point on, I started thinking about life beyond the game, things that others was doing, business.
They weren't playing football, but they were doing great business.
I could see it.
And I was always curious to what what they did to get to that place.
Jerry Jones, he played football in Arkansas.
He wasn't a very good football player.
He didn't make it to the pros, but heck, he own the Dallas Cowboys right now, (Becky chuckles) a $6 billion organization.
Mark Cuban loved basketball.
Probably wasn't a very good basketball player.
He started broadcast.com and sold it to Yahoo for three-point-something billion dollars.
That ain't got nothing to do with his basketball skill or his football paralysis.
It has a lot to do with his mental capability and those things.
And so Roger Staubach, who played football and was not getting paid what we were getting paid in the '90s started his real estate firm and started his real estate while he was playing the game during his off season, worked in the real estate space, selling stuff, learning all the different trades, built this company up in the '80s all the way up to the 2000s, sold it to Jones Lang LaSalle for over $700 million.
- Now, you got into business with him, did you not?
- Of course I did.
(both laughing) - Why would you not?
- Because you gotta have covering.
You gotta have covering, and you have to be able to go places where people have gone before.
But you also have to insert who you are so you're different.
You're different in the way that you approach it, but you learn some of the skill sets that they've left there for you to learn.
I mean, no one is reinventing the wheel.
People are bringing different levels of services everywhere that they go.
And the one thing about Mr. Staubach that I absolutely love: integrity.
Do what you say you're gonna do and service your client to the fullest, period.
And that's part of everyone's gift.
We all have the gift to serve.
We all have the gift to display our talents and to inspire others toward their own level of greatness.
But it's up to you to figure out what that is.
- Okay, you talked about service, and I know that you have been very generous in your community helping underserved young men.
And I think you had an organization called Team 22.
- And can you talk a little bit about that and some of the success stories?
- Oh man, it goes way back before Team 22.
It goes all the way back to when I had Emmitt Smith Charities back in Pensacola and we put about 28 kids in the local area through college through a Take Stock in Kids program through the state of Florida.
We used to do the programs with Feed the Children and those group of guys where we'd bring in pallets, truckloads and have Thanksgiving giveaways and stuff like that and feed over over 1,200, 13, 1,500 families.
We had back to school programs where we brought kids in on school buses and they got haircuts, they got dental screening, eye screening, and so forth.
They even got clothes from JC Penney's and places like that to start the school year off right.
And then we have our own Team 22 kids which Pat and I mentored these kids from the 7th grade all the way to the 12th grade and then provided them scholarship money to go off to college.
And they all have graduated, if not this year, they should be graduating very soon.
And so, yes, we've done that part of our work and now we're focusing on our own children and getting our own kids through school and so forth.
- Well, okay, I have to make a little confession.
Football, of course, is a religion in Texas.
It was always a religion in our family.
We've go to church on Sunday morning and we watched Cowboys football- - We did the same thing.
- in the afternoon.
And everyone in my family loved the Cowboys, particularly the Emmitt years.
But you didn't win my heart until you won that Mirrorball Trophy with "Dancing with the Stars."
So I wanna know, was that harder or was football harder?
- Football was definitely harder, no doubt.
There was nobody beating me up in "Dancing with the Stars."
- (laughs) Football, I had to run through human beings that had nothing but cruel intentions.
There was no one on the dance floor that had cruel intentions against me.
It was me and my partner against other dancers trying to win the hearts of America.
So it was a combination of both.
- [Becky] Which you did.
- It was a combination of both, and it was becoming a dancer versus coming in as a dancer.
And I think people appreciated the process of watching me go from my first cha-cha to the grand finale when I'm doing the samba and all the freestyle and the rumbas and everything else.
They're seeing this football player just transform right before their eyes, which made them believe that they can go into the ballroom and do the same thing.
It's to inspire others.
- [Becky] Other people.
And was that mostly work or mostly fun?
- It was both.
It was both.
I had a ball doing it, but it required a lot of work, a lot of commitment, a lot of hours.
I went from working and training in the ballroom from four hours to eight hours to 12 hour days.
- Good grief.
When you get beat by Jerry Springer, that'll make you go double up your hours and work.
(both laughing) - Okay, last question, when the Emmitt Smith story is written, what will be the title of the final chapter?
- You know, I don't know.
I have no clue outside of, you know, I would like to think of myself like the little engine that could.
I think I can.
I think I can.
I think I can, I believe I can, and I will do what I can do.
- And you did.
- Thank you, Emmitt.
- Thank you.
- I appreciate you so much.
- Thank you.
- Our art tonight is that of Ellen Heck, showing now at Baker Schorr Fine Art Gallery in Midland in a show called "Figure to Figure."
Heck is originally from Midland.
She earned degrees from the School of Art Institute of Chicago and Brown University.
She works as a printmaker in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, though much of her current show is oil.
She has been called The Current Day Mary Cassatt.
She has a rich exhibition history at galleries and museums throughout the United States and abroad.
Her work is in collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Cleveland Art Museum, Stanford University, and the Swope Art Museum.
Finally, thank you for joining us for this edition of "One Question."
We will be back from time to time with special interviews of interest.
I'm Becky Ferguson, goodnight.
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