Emmitt James Smith III (born May 15, 1969) is a former college and professional American football running back who became the National Football League's (NFL) all-time leading rusher during his fifteen seasons in the league during the 1990s and 2000s.
Smith grew up in Pensacola, Florida and became the second-leading rusher in American high school football history while playing for Escambia High School. Smith then attended the University of Florida, where he set numerous school rushing records over a three-year college career with the Florida Gators. After being named a unanimous All-American in 1989, Smith chose to forgo his senior year of eligibility and play professionally. He came back and completed his college coursework, graduating from the University of Florida in 1996.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Smith in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft. During his long professional career, he became the NFL's all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards, breaking the record formerly held by Walter Payton, and played for three Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys teams. He also holds the record for career rushing touchdowns with 164. Smith is the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award all in the same season (1993). He is also one of four running backs to lead the NFL in rushing three or more consecutive seasons, joining Steve Van Buren, Jim Brown and Earl Campbell. Smith led the league in rushing and won the Super Bowl in the same year three times (1992, 1993, and 1995) when to that point it had never been done. Smith is also one of only two non-kickers in NFL history to score more than 1,000 career points (the other being Jerry Rice). Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Smith played thirteen seasons with the Cowboys and two with the Arizona Cardinals. While playing for Dallas, Smith plus quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin were known as "The Triplets," and they led their team to three Super Bowl championships during the 1990s.
Smith was born in Pensacola, Florida, the son of Mary J. Smith and Emmitt James Smith, Jr. He attended Escambia High School in Pensacola, where he played high school football and ran track for the Escambia Gators. During Smith's high school football career, Escambia won the state football championship, and Smith rushed for 106 touchdowns and 8,804 yards, which was the second most yardage in the history of American high school football at the time. Emmitt rushed for over 100 yards in 45 of the 49 games he started for Escambia (including the last 28 in a row) and finished with a 7.8 yards per carry average. Twice, he broke the 2,000-yard rushing mark in a season. In track & field, Smith competed as a sprinter and was a member of the 4 × 100 m (42.16 s) relay squad.
For his efforts, Smith was named the USA Today and Parade magazine high school player of the year for 1986. In 2007, twenty years after Smith graduated from high school, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) named Smith to its "All-Century Team," recognizing him as one of the thirty-three greatest Florida high school football players of the last 100 years. As part of its "100 Years of Florida High School Football" awards ceremony, FHSAA named Smith as its "Player of the Century."
Despite his accomplishments and accolades, some college recruiting analysts opined that he was too small and too slow to succeed in major college football when he signed to play for the University of Florida. Recruiting expert Max Emfinger said of Smith, "Emmitt Smith is a lugger, not a runner. He's not fast. He can't get around the corner. When he falls flat on his face, remember where you heard it first."
Smith accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he played for coach Galen Hall's Gators for three seasons (1987–1989). He did not start the first two games of his college career in the fall of 1987, but made the most of his opportunities in a second-week rout of Tulsa in which he gained 109 yards on just ten carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run. That performance earned him a spot in the starting lineup the following week in the Gators' SEC opener against Alabama at Legion Field.
In his first collegiate start, Smith promptly broke Florida's 57-year-old all-time single game rushing record held by Red Bethea, carrying 39 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns as the Gators upset the Crimson Tide. Smith went on to break the 1,000-yard barrier in the seventh game of his freshman season, the fastest any running back had ever broken that barrier to begin his college career. He finished the 1987 season with 1,341 yards and was named Southeastern Conference and National Freshman of the Year. He also finished ninth in that year's Heisman voting.
Smith and the Gators began the 1988 season strong as Smith averaged over 120 yards per game, leading his team to 5-0 start. During the sixth contest against Memphis State, Smith injured his knee and was forced out of action for several weeks. The Gators lost the game in which he was injured plus their next three games, and with starting quarterback Kyle Morris also injured, they were unable to muster a single touchdown over 14 quarters of play. Once Smith returned to the lineup, they rebounded to finish the season 7-5, including a win in the 1988 All-American Bowl in which Smith ran for a 55-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and was named the game's MVP. Smith rushed for 988 yards on the year (not including the bowl game) at 110 yards per game, the lowest totals of his college career.
Smith stayed healthy throughout his junior season in 1989 and found success again. He finished the campaign with Florida records for rushing yards in a season (1,599), rushing yards in a single game (316 versus New Mexico in October 1989), longest rushing play (96 yards against Mississippi State in 1988), career rushing yards (3,928), career rushing yards per game (126.7) and career rushing touchdowns (36), among many others. In all, Smith owned 58 school records at the conclusion of his Florida career despite playing on Florida teams with virtually no passing game, which made him the focal point of opposing defenses.
At the conclusion of his junior season in 1989, Smith was named a first-team SEC selection for the third year and SEC Player of the Year, was a unanimous first-team All-American, and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting. In his final game in the Freedom Bowl, he had few rushing attempts after Florida fell behind Washington early and were forced to throw.
Days later on January 1, 1990, Steve Spurrier was introduced as the Gators' new head coach. Smith, concerned about his potential role in Spurrier's reportedly pass-first offense, decided to forgo his senior year at Florida and enter the NFL draft, which for the first time in history allowed juniors to be eligible. Smith returned to the university during the NFL off-season and completed his bachelor's degree in 1996.
Smith was subsequently inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great" in 1999, the Gator Football Ring of Honor and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. As part of a series of articles written for The Gainesville Sun in 2006, he was recognized as the No. 3 all-time player among the top 100 from the first 100 years of the Gators football program.
In the 1990 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys considered drafting linebacker James Francis with their first round selection, but after he was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cowboys focused on improving their running game when Smith started dropping, because despite his collegiate success, some NFL teams still felt that Smith was too small and slow for the pro game. The Cowboys traded up with the Pittsburgh Steelers moving from the 21st to the 17th position, in exchange for a third round draft choice (#81-Craig Veasey), to select Smith in the first round. Even though he missed all of the preseason after having the longest holdout by a rookie in franchise history, he was able to start 15 games, rush for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns, while being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and receiving Pro Bowl honors.
In 1991, he registered 1,563 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He also clinched the first of four rushing titles, after tallying 160 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in the season finale.
In 1992, he set the Cowboys' single-season franchise record and won the rushing title with 1,713 yards. He also became the first player to win the league's rushing title and the Super Bowl in the same season.
In 1993, he missed all of training camp and the first 2 regular season games. The Cowboys lost both contests with rookie Derrick Lassic running in his place. With the season in jeopardy the Cowboys relented and reached an agreement, making Smith the highest paid running back in the league. Smith posted 1,486 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns and helped the Cowboys become the first team to win a Super Bowl after starting the season 0-2. He also received the league MVP and the Super Bowl XXVIII MVP award. On October 31, his 237 rushing yards against the Philadelphia Eagles set the single-season franchise record. His career signature game came in the season finale against the New York Giants, with the Cowboys desperately trying to clinch the NFC East title and a first-round bye in the playoffs, Smith suffered a first-degree separation in his right shoulder during the first half, but still finished with 229 total yards and played a key role in a 16-13 overtime win.
The next season saw Smith led the league with 21 rushing touchdowns, a new career-high despite battling a hamstring pull late in the season. However, the Cowboys lost the NFC Championship Game to the 49ers.
In 1995, Smith became the first player in league history to rush for 1,400 rushing yards or more in five consecutive seasons and set the NFL record with 25 rushing touchdowns. Smith, Jim Brown, Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson are the only players with seven straight ten-touchdown seasons to start their careers. He also broke two of Tony Dorsett's Dallas franchise rushing records, the first for most consecutive initial games of a season with 100+ rushing yards (Smith's four to Dorsett's three) and the second for single-season rushing yards (1,773 to Dorsett's 1,646). Both records would hold for 19 years until 2014, when DeMarco Murray rushed for 100+ yards in each of his first eight games and accumulated 1,845 rushing yards over the course of the season.
In 1996, he scored his 100th career rushing touchdown and surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards, becoming just the twelfth player in league history and the youngest one to reach this milestone.
In 1998, he became the Cowboys' all-time leading rusher (passing Dorsett) and the NFL's all-time rushing touchdown leader (surpassing Marcus Allen). The next year, he became the NFL's all-time leader in career postseason rushing yards (1,586) and postseason rushing touchdowns (19).
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 eleven 1,000-yard rushing seasons in a career.
In 2002, he reached the goal he set as a rookie, finishing the season with 17,162 career yards and breaking the NFL rushing record previously held by Walter Payton against the Seattle Seahawks. After the season, the Cowboys hired head coach Bill Parcells who wanted to go with younger running backs and released Smith on February 26, 2003.
On March 26, 2003, Smith signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals, who were not only looking for Smith to improve their team, but also helped them promote it with their local fan base. Responding to questions about what he could do as a 34-year old running back, he said "I think I'm a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that." Head Coach Dave McGinnis announced that Smith would start for the Cardinals. On October 5, in a highly anticipated game, he returned to Texas Stadium to play against the Cowboys, but suffered a broken left shoulder blade after safety Roy Williams hit him in the second quarter. The Cardinals lost 7-24, and Smith's 6 carries for minus-1 yards marked the first time in his career he rushed for negative yardage. The injury forced him to miss 6 games, and he eventually finished the season with 256 rushing yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
In 2004, new head coach Dennis Green was hired and named Smith as the team's starter at running back. He posted 937 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. He also became the oldest player in NFL history ever to throw his first touchdown pass, throwing a 21-yard touchdown strike on a halfback option play, the only passing attempt of his career.
Smith had 1,193 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns and averaged 3.2 yards per carry in his 2-year time in Arizona. He also had 515 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns and averaged 7.3 yards per reception in his 2-year time with the Arizona Cardinals.
Three days before Super Bowl XXXIX on February 3, 2005, Smith announced his retirement from the NFL. He was not re-signed by the Cardinals and signed a one-day contract for one dollar with the Dallas Cowboys, after which he immediately retired with the team he had played with for most of his career.
Smith currently holds the NFL record in career rushing yards with 18,355, breaking the previous record held by Walter Payton, on October 27, 2002. He leads all running backs with 164 career rushing touchdowns, and his 175 total touchdowns ranks him second only to Jerry Rice's 208. 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. (The others are Jerry Rice, Brian Mitchell and Walter Payton)
He is the NFL's all-time leader in rushing attempts with 4,409, the only player to post three seasons with 19 or more touchdowns, and the record-holder for most games in a season with a touchdown and most games in a season with a rushing touchdown (15), set in 1995.
Smith also accumulated several 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, and six receptions for 27 yards), and Super Bowl XXVIII (132 yards and two touchdowns, and four 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. He also scored two touchdowns in Super Bowl XXX.
Smith is one of only five NFL players who have amassed over 10,000 career-rushing yards and 400 career receptions. Smith and Jerry Rice are the only two non-kickers in NFL history to score 1,000 points in a career.
As a runner, Smith was consistently effective, though not dazzling in style. "(Smith) darted, slithered and followed his blockers, and squeezed yard after yard out of plays that didn't have any yards in them. He didn't look especially fast or powerful or blindingly deceptive, yet he couldn't be stopped." Smith was noted for being a very durable back with excellent vision, tremendous leg strength, and great balance, and was known as one of the best second-effort runners ever. Smith was also a reliable receiver and an excellent blocker in pass protection.
During his career, he was often compared to Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, as both men were extremely successful for their respective teams and combined for 8 rushing titles during the 1990s. Some give Smith the edge for his consistent "north-south" style that took full advantage of Dallas' talented offensive line, while some think Sanders' spectacular running style with sudden changes of direction made him a better back. Observers agree, though, that both Smith and Sanders were among the best running backs in league history.
Although Smith is the only player to tell John Madden that Madden NFL rated his skills too high, he was ranked No. 68 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, three years before becoming the game's all-time rushing yardage leader.
NFL career statistics
- GP: games played
- GS: games started
- Att: rushing attempts
- Y/A: yards per attempt
- Y/G: yards per game
- A/G: rushing attempts per game
- Rec: receptions
- Y/R: yards per reception
- R/G: receptions per game
- Y/G: receiving yards per game
Life after football
On September 19, 2005, at halftime of the Cowboys-Redskins game (broadcast on Monday Night Football), Smith was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor with his long-time teammates Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
On July 23, 2006, Smith was a judge at the Miss Universe 2006 pageant.
In the fall of 2006, Smith won the third season of Dancing with the Stars with professional dancer Cheryl Burke. Smith was praised for "making dancing look manly" and for his "natural charm," and Burke was given credit for coaching Smith while still allowing him to improvise some moves.
On March 12, 2007, Smith joined ESPN as a studio analyst for their NFL pre-game coverage alongside Chris Berman, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, and Chris Mortensen. However, he was removed from this coverage for the 2008 season. Instead, he appeared Sunday mornings during the NFL season on SportsCenter. He performs with Steve Young and Stuart Scott at the Monday Night Football site each week on Monday Night Countdown. His contract was not renewed for the 2009 season.
Smith was criticized by some in the media and sports blogs as being inarticulate. Jimmy Kimmel Live! created a video called "Emmitt Smith: Wordsmith" mocking his numerous malapropisms. Sports Illustrated's Peter King called Smith's comments regarding Michael Vick's involvement in the Bad Newz Kennels "idiotic and inappropriate."
Smith was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, in his first year of eligibility.
On February 7, 2010, Smith flipped the coin at the start of Super Bowl XLIV between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints.
In June 2010, Smith returned to his high school alma mater, Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida, for a taping of ESPN's show Homecoming with Rick Reilly. In October 2010, he was inducted into the Escambia High School Sports Hall of Fame during halftime of an EHS football game, along with former Seattle Mariners third baseman Jim Presley and several other EHS alumni.
In 2005 Smith made his first move toward becoming a real estate developer: He teamed with another Cowboy legend, Roger Staubach, the founder and CEO of Staubach Co., to form Smith/Cypress Partners LP, a real estate development enterprise specializing in transforming underutilized parcels in densely populated areas into commercially viable properties anchored by national retail giants.
In his first deal, Smith helped the firm sign Mervyn's, a California-based department store chain, to anchor a $45 million, 230,000-square-foot (21,000 m2) project in Phoenix.
With access to $50 million in capital, Smith has several other projects in the works. He has a letter of intent to develop a 65-acre (260,000 m2) site in a densely populated yet underserved area near northwest Fort Worth (it was formerly a college operated by a Masonic lodge), and he is currently negotiating for rights to another potential project in southeastern Fort Worth.
On one of the sites, Smith plans to build a complex with as much as 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2) of retail space, more than double the size of the Phoenix property. "There's a huge need for top-quality retail in these areas, and I understand how the deals are cut," Smith said before lunch. "I'm not an engineer. I'm not a contractor. And I'm still learning the jargon. But I understand deals, and the only way to grow is to be in the middle of the deals."
Smith/Cypress is a joint venture (Smith owns 51 percent) with Cypress Equities, the retail development arm of Roger Staubach's real estate services company. Early in his own playing career, Smith approached the former Cowboy quarterback with an interest in learning more about real estate. Skeptical at first, Staubach told Smith to spend some time at his company's offices during the spring and summer if he was sincere. Smith did just that, spending the off-season at Staubach Co.'s headquarters in Dallas. Staubach founded the company in the late 1970s to locate and negotiate office and retail space for clients. In 2006 the privately held firm had transactions totaling $26 billion and 835,000,000 square feet (77,600,000 m2) of space.
In 2014, Smith's company began a nationwide expansion, including into New York City.
Smith also co-founded ESmith Legacy, a Baltimore-based company that specializes in commercial real estate development and investment management. He serves as its Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer.
He returned to Dancing with the Stars in its fifteenth season as one of the "All-Stars" contestants. Smith once again had Cheryl Burke as his professional dance partner. They were voted off during the ninth week of the competition.
In 2016, Smith took the position of co-owner alongside founder and president Ben Davis of The Gents Place, an ultra-premium men's grooming and lifestyle club founded in Frisco, Texas. The company has grown to include lifestyle clubs in Dallas and Southlake, as well as Leawood, Kansas.
Smith was initiated as a member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity at the University of Florida. He returned to the university during the NFL offseason to complete his coursework, and graduated with his bachelor's degree in public recreation in May 1996.
Smith is a devout Christian. He has a daughter, Rheagen Smith (born November 2, 1998), with ex-girlfriend Hope Wilson. He married former Miss Virginia USA beauty queen Patricia Southall on April 22, 2000. They have three children together: Emmitt James IV (born May 15, 2002), Skylar (born October 15, 2003), and Elijah Alexander James (born September 22, 2010). Smith is also the stepfather to Jasmine Page Lawrence (born January 15, 1996), who is Southall's daughter with ex-husband, actor-comedian Martin Lawrence.
- 1989 College Football All-America Team
- Florida Gators football, 1980–89
- List of College Football Hall of Fame inductees (players, A–K)
- List of College Football Hall of Fame inductees (players, L–Z)
- List of Dallas Cowboys first-round draft picks
- List of Dallas Cowboys players
- List of Florida Gators football All-Americans
- List of Florida Gators football players in the NFL
- List of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees
- List of National Football League rushing yards leaders
- List of National Football League rushing champions
- List of SEC Most Valuable Players
- List of University of Florida alumni
- List of University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame members