The road to all-time greatness forks rather early in a young man's lifetime. Players gifted with "it" normally shine relatively early, starring from Pop Warner through high school athletics. There are always going to be late-bloomers, sure. For the most part, though, one can see the special in a kid's talents and know that if given the opportunity, greatness could be right around the corner.
I'm sure that's how it was for the folks in Emmitt Smith's community in Pensacola, Florida; for those that had the opportunity to watch him grow. By the time he made it to Escambia High School and won a state championship, and rushed for over 8,800 yards in a four-year career, his legend was already being cemented. Of course, the career that followed at the University of Florida and then with the Dallas Cowboys wasn't too shabby either.
We were afforded the opportunity to chat with Emmitt as he returns to his hometown as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate's Hometown Heroes program. Smith was very excited about being able to return to where it all started.
I think that this right here presents a tremendous opportunity for former athletes who are Hall of Famers. It gives us a chance to come back and let our fans and our people in our hometown know that we have not forgotten them. This is where it all began. I think a lot of the things that we talked about as far as my career were built on the foundation of so many great coaches, teachers, family members and friends right here in this community. I am just honored that the Hall of Fame and Allstate have created this Hall of Fame Hometown Heroes campaign.
I'm looking forward to it, it's a great way for me to come back and stay connected in this community. Not only that, but to spending time to share with kids and let them know that if I can make it out of here, they can too. It's not reserved for me, the opportunities and the doors are open. You have guys like Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, Doug Banks up in Seattle, George Selvie who's with the Cowboys right now, Derrick Brooks came out of here, Roy Jones, Jr... so many other great athletes have come out of this city. The doors are open, the opportunities are there, are you willing to pay the price to go and make it happen for yourself?
Emmitt certainly made it happen for himself: the NFL's all-time leading rusher, 3-time Super Bowl Champion, MVP, Super Bowl MVP, Four-Time First-Team All Pro, Eight-Time Pro Bowler and owner of so many other awards and accolades it's too many to mention. I asked him about what he saw out of the Cowboys running game this past Sunday and about other running topics in general to start off our chat. Here's what he had to say.
Emmitt Smith: I'm with everyone else in Cowboys Nation corner right now. We were able to run the football very, very effectively. The thing that I want to see now is the consistency and the commitment to the run game like we had [Sunday]. I do understand there are weeks when there are teams and defenses that are probably a little stronger than the Rams defense that will show up and make it very tough.
The commitment is the thing that I'm looking for out of the coaches which gives DeMarco Murray and Dunbar a chance to carry the football and shoulder some of the burden and lighten Tony Romo's a little bit.
BTB: One of the things I've been preaching for the last few years is the commitment to the running game opens up the passing game. People try to say ‘Oh, the NFL is changing and you don't need the running game so much, you don't have to rely on it.' But the amount of success the Cowboys and specifically Tony Romo have out of play-action is incredible. You saw it on the completion to Witten, the TD to Harris, both came on play-action. What's the run game's role in today's NFL?
Emmitt: They call this a copycat league, but at the end of the day the fundamentals are still the same. I don't care if you're in the shotgun, you're trying to run the spread or the veer or whatever. When you look at a running game that's pretty strong, like the Chicago Bears [Sunday] night, running the football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.. or when you look at the Indianapolis Colts, the way they ran the ball against the 49ers... when you think about the Seattle Seahawks, the way they ran the ball. Effective running games have the tendency to make things a little better for offensive systems as well as defensive systems.
The commitment itself, I don't care what the league is going to, the commitment itself to running the football begins with the philosophy of the organization and the philosophy of the coaching staff. If you want to run that rock, I don't care how bad it is, you're going to need it to close out games at some point. I think when you commit to doing it, practice-wise, players get it in their mind, offensive linemen get it in their mind that this is what we're going to do. We're gonna hunker down, we're gonna be aggressive, and we can fire off the ball versus pass blocking the whole entire time.
BTB: It's funny you mention about milking the clock to win out a game, I was just ragging on some of my Redskins compadres on how beautiful it used to be if the Cowboys had the lead with six minutes to go, it was Emmitt Smith time and there was no way it was gonna be stopped. There was pretty much nothing they could do about it. But nowadays in the NFL, there's not a lot of feature backs as there was back in your heyday of the ‘90s and the decades before you. How much has the NFL changed for the running back in the faster, bigger, stronger NFL? What's your take?
Emmitt: I think the change for running backs today, obviously is there to protect the health of the running back. Whether you have a two-back system or a one-back system, whatever you have, you have to make it work to your advantage. The unique thing about having a two-back system, you have a change-of-pace kind of running back. Often times people see the second back having a great game, like the kid in Houston versus Arian Foster, step in and have a big game. Arian Foster averaging two or three yards a carry while [Ben Tate] in the second position can average four or five.
People think that he's better than Arian Foster, but there's a difference in being a number one versus a number two. The number one has to carry the load and everybody is preparing to stop him. They have plenty of film on him to break down. They understand his strengths and his weaknesses.
At the end of the day, by having a dual-back system, you create a change-of-pace. You create an opportunity to take advantage of that shiftiness. That's the uniqueness of the National Football League right now, their preserving the running back position and keeping guys healthier by having the two-back system.
BTB: I'm glad you mention the fact that sometimes fans see the backup running back and think that he can be plugged in. You kind of ran into that situation back in the early 2000's with a guy named Troy Hambrick (Emmitt laughs) who thought he was gonna be able to fill your shoes. I don't know if it was the contract or Bill Parcells trying to put his stamp on the team, but obviously he could not come close to what you were doing . How would you put a spin on the way your tenure with the Cowboys ended?
Emmitt: The way it ended...
You didn't think you'd get the whole skinny did you? Make sure you tune into Wednesday's live broadcast of Cowboys Crunchtime w/ KD as we will air the rest of the Emmitt Smith interview in it's entirety. You'll hear what Emmitt thought about Bill Parcells ascension to the top of the Cowboys pecking order, as well as what it takes to be a champion, his offensive linemen of the '90s and much more.
We go live at 9pm ET. I'll also be joined by Cowboys Insider Mike Fisher of Fox Sports Southwest to review the Rams win and look ahead to the Chargers game as Dallas tries to start gaining some momentum.