Emmitt Smith has been retired from the NFL for 11 seasons, and has no regrets about walking away from the game.
After all, the Hall of Fame running back left as the league’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards — a record that still stands today — as well as a three-time Super Bowl champion, a league MVP and an eight-time Pro Bowler.
“I was comfortable in retirement from Day 1,” Smith said, chuckling. “I’m extremely comfortable with it. It’s funny how quickly time flies. I don’t miss football at all. I will take a check or two from Jerry [Jones] if he wants to send it my way. But I really don’t miss football at all.”
Instead, Smith is happily married, raising his five children and giving back to the community through events such as The Salvation Army’s “Doing the Most Good” luncheon Tuesday afternoon at the Omni Fort Worth.
One of his sons, Emmitt Smith IV, plays football.
Amid the heightened awareness of former players being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, Smith said if he could do it all over again, he would play football.
“Yes. Yes I would,” said Smith. “I think if I did it over again, they would protect me better. I think now they’re starting to protect guys better.”
Smith said he was diagnosed with concussions twice during his 15-year NFL career, adding: “I’ve been dinged a little bit more than three or four times.
“But two concussions is not bad for 20-something years of playing football.”
Smith didn’t downplay the issue, and acknowledged he has concerns about his son playing football just like any other parent would. At the end of the day, though, it’s not enough to keep his son from playing the game.
As the keynote speaker, Smith, who began his football career on a Salvation Army field in Pensacola, Fla., entertained the crowd of hundreds going back through his career.
He spoke of his youth-league days on the Salvation Army field and how it laid the foundation for what became one of the best football careers in history. Smith retold several stories from his days with the Cowboys, as he spent 13 of his 15 professional seasons with America’s Team.
Smith’s favorite play? Lead draw and following Daryl Johnston through a hole.
Smith appreciated his offensive linemen, too, recalling buying them everything from Rolex watches to custom clothes and paintings to all-expense-paid trips to Hawaii.
But, he said, “One thing I learned is never take them to dinner at one time.”
Smith went on to discuss his animated teammate Michael Irvin. Smith joked about how Irvin might argue with everyone except himself and quarterback Troy Aikman.
But Smith loved seeing an opposing defense stack nine in the box. As he put it: “There wasn’t a man on the field who could cover Michael Irvin one-on-one, let alone [tight end] Jay Novacek.”
Smith also touched on his off-field endeavors such as Dancing With the Stars and filming a TV show that traced his lineage back to a small African town.
Meeting with reporters before the luncheon, Smith also addressed several issues with the current Cowboys. He loves Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott but feels the Cowboys shouldn’t take him with the fourth overall pick. He likes what they have in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, and believes pass rush is a higher priority for the team.
As for Tony Romo, Smith remains convinced that he is the quarterback for the near future. He doesn’t think there is a franchise quarterback in this year’s draft class but said it’s time for the Cowboys to begin searching for Romo’s successor.
In the end, though, Smith seemed most passionate about spending his time giving back to the community. He knows first-hand how valuable organizations such as The Salvation Army can be, as they helped him get to where he is today.
“Having a chance to shape a person or influence a young person’s life and direct them in positive ways is really what we’re all after,” Smith said. “When I think about it through my own kids ... there’s no greater joy than being able to shape your own kids.”