Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. He helped the Dallas Cowboys win three Super Bowls in the 1990s as part of the famed “Triplets” alongside quarterback Troy Aikman and receiver Michael Irvin.
All three were on hand for the opening of the Ring of Honor Walk outside the Ford Center at The Star. Smith made sure his 7-year-old son, Elijah, took part in the ceremony when he unveiled the ‘22’ monument.
“It’ll probably be a moment that he’ll never forget,” Smith said of having his son accompany him. “Something he’ll be able to talk about, show-and-tell at school would be great, but he’s trying to soak it all in.
“He’s trying to understand what all of this is all about because he wasn’t around when I played. To him, I’m just Daddy. … If my kids ever forget what their daddy used to do, they’ll always have a place to go.”
The same can be said for the rest of the 21 members of the Ring of Honor. Smith was one of 16 living members of the Ring of Honor to attend the ceremony, along with Aikman, Irvin, Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach, Chuck Howley, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright, Cliff Harris, Don Perkins, Drew Pearson, Randy White, Lee Roy Jordan, Tony Dorsett, Charles Haley and Darren Woodson.
The families of four deceased members — Don Meredith, Tom Landry, Bob Hayes and Tex Schramm — were also on hand.
The only Ring of Honor member not in attendance or represented by family was Larry Allen.
“The meaningful thing for those of us that are in it is that it’s a small number and you’re talking about an organization that has won five world championships and a lot of great players,” Aikman said. “And so from that standpoint, it means a lot.
“On the other hand, as I said, I understand that there are some that are very deserving that aren’t in, but I know when you go around to some of these other stadiums, there’s a lot of names, sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming with the number of names, and I think that’s been one of the neat things for Dallas’ history or their Ring of Honor is that there aren’t as many names.”
Said Harris, a defensive back for the Cowboys from 1970-79, “It’s an incredible experience. It’s been a life experience, coming from a little, small school, Ouachita Baptist, to being part of the Ring of Honor is beyond belief.”
All of the members enjoyed sharing stories from their playing days, of course.
Harris joked about running into Perkins as both wore No. 43.
“The equipment manager said, ‘You’re going to be No. 43.’ I said, ‘There’s another 43,’ ” Harris said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. You’re not going to make the team anyway.’ That’s how I got to be No. 43.”
Lilly, the old TCU standout, recalled the early days of the Cowboys and practicing at Burnett Field in Dallas compared with the state-of-the-art facility the team now calls home.
“It was a condemned baseball stadium in Oak Cliff. We had to hang our uniforms and our shoes up because if you had sweat on stuff, the rats would come in at night and eat them all up,” Lilly said. “We had no doors going into our locker room, so we learned to hang that up. We put rat poison out all the time and the rats just got bigger. They ate more and more.
“Now we’re in a state-of-the-art facility.”
Irvin enjoyed being around the organization’s all-time greats and debating who would be in the starting lineup had they played in the same era.
“Who is starting — Emmitt or Tony?” Irvin said. “Who is starting — Roger or Troy? We are having those conversations. Of course, Drew Pearson and I say we are both starting at the same time. That works out for us.”
The Ring of Honor members and their families then joined the current Cowboys roster for lunch prior to the first training camp practice at the Ford Center. That is always a special moment, particularly for a longtime player such as tight end Jason Witten, who will likely join them in the Ring of Honor whenever his career ends.
“It’s great for us,” Witten said. “You learn real quick when you get drafted here, what a privilege it is, the foundation those guys laid. To have a chance to be around them, not only some of the best ever to play here, but ever to play in the NFL, is really special for us.”
Witten enjoys interacting with all of the greats, but has grown particularly close to Staubach and Irvin ever since joining the franchise as a third-round pick in 2003.
“Roger’s always been a great resource for me over the years and amazing just how successful he is and how he just roots for us, always just genuinely pulling for us and a great man off the field,” Witten said. “Michael is someone I’ve enjoyed being with. Just unbelievable passion, represented so much of what they were about. Emmitt’s been somebody I looked up to as a kid and had the opportunity to be around. Those guys in the ’90s are just great resources for all of us.
“If you’re here long enough, you’re around a lot of them.”