Talking With…Emmitt Smith
“There’s only so many hits that a brother can take, and I took more hits than anybody.”
SLAM: As a viewer it’s hard to tell, I think it’s less in basketball, but how important is a coach in football?
ES: Extremely important, extremely important. You can have great talent and poor leadership, and that team is gonna be average or below. You can have great talent and great leadership and that team is gonna be well above-average to great. Just because of the overall environment of what someone’s bringing to the table. The key to it, if you have great talent and poor leadership, the talent is not gonna buy into the leadership. You’re asking the talent to really come up with its own environment and its own leadership. And leadership comes from the top on down. God created the Heavens and the earth, He created those first. Then He formed the earth, then He brought man in His own image. So He set the stage and set the leadership, and everything followed from that point on. Now we are here without leadership, that’s why you have this whole damn world in disarray. Without leadership, whether in the household or within the government or within cities, states, no matter where it’s at, it’s about leadership. And that’s why you have people doing what they wanna do in a lotta ways creating a lotta issues, and nobody’s really coming together. So leadership is important, and it starts in the household then works its way outside.
SLAM: You ever thought about getting into coaching?
ES: You know what, I’ve thought about it. But it’s so much time involved in coaching. And if I did, I know why I would want to do it. One, I believe I can get it done. Two, I wanna help young people shape their lives, I want to help shape their lives. Because I had coaches help shape my life. And I think that’s what’s missing. That’s why you have Urban Meyer—he’s a loved coach down there in UF. You had the same thing with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. Players that played for these guys, they loved their coach. And Belichick, players loved their coach. And I’m giving you examples of people that do what? Provide structure, discipline, and leadership.
SLAM: Do you think the psyche of players have changed? Like you could take getting yelled at but players today maybe can’t.
ES: Yeah, you’ve got a bunch of time-out kids out there playing football. You’ve got a bunch of time-out kids playing football! [Laughs]
SLAM: A lot of soft guys out there? Coaches have to soften their tone, no?
ES: A lot of that happens because, in my opinion, the rules, the laws of the world, the structures have changed. You can’t do certain things that you used to do. There’s a difference between child abuse and discipline. The problem is they blurred the line. They blurred the line. And so, you have issues. And those issues set up a lot of things. Not only that, but now you don’t have unity within the household like you used to. Divorce is prevalent. It’s like a freaking plague. You’ve got mamas tryin’ to raise grown men, and daddies tryin’ to raise daughters, grown women. That doesn’t work, that doesn’t work at all. So, you’ve got a bunch of different dynamics that all stem to a young man having to learn how to become a grown man on the street. And when they learn it on the street, the street is not friendly, because the street is only there for the people to travel on. That’s what’s out there, the street, the gutter and all that kinda stuff. But when you take that, and put it on the field, it’s different.
SLAM: How did you balance family and playing football? It’s not a Sunday game, its seven days a week.
ES: It’s more than that, when you talk off-season, too. You’re there for your family. In football, it’s easy to be there for your family.
SLAM: But we give props for guys staying all night, studying film…
ES: They don’t stay all night.
SLAM: What about a guy like Belichick?
ES: That’s Belichick, making a sacrifice. And you gotta have the right partner to understand that sacrifice. And for a man to make that sacrifice, he’s gotta go home and make up the time that he’s lost. Sometimes you gotta leave work at work. You come home, you’ve gotta spend time, quality time, not just any time, not just sitting in the same room reading the paper, you gotta have communication with your spouse. You gotta make your spouse feel part of your environment, and if you’ve got that understanding with one another, that’s a good family.
SLAM: How do you deal with going home, coming from football, such an aggressive game, you’ve got the mindset all day, I gotta hit people, but you go home and you’ve gotta turn it off. How hard is it? A lot of guys seem to struggle with that.
ES: It’s easy; it’s easy. [If guys have trouble with it], that’s their fault. They have to learn to balance. And a lot of it is maturity. You know right from wrong. How you can you go home and smack your wife? That’s wrong, that’s dead wrong. You know that. A man is not supposed to do things like that. You’re talking about the person you love. You need to love her. Meaning go, caress her, marinate with her, you know, make her feel like a woman. That’s what she wants. When you got out there, you go out there to fight. But when you come in, you come in to be the husband, the lover, the compassionate one. You got to learn that balance! When you go out there it’s like flippin’ a switch. The damn light switch, it’s dark right now, but flip it on and watch it become light. You gotta know how to do it, the car’s not gonna drive by itself, someone’s gotta get in and drive it. And when it’s driving, either gotta be sober or drunk. The car’s not gonna hit anybody, it’s the guy behind the wheel that’s gonna hit the person.
SLAM: I hear Brian Dawkins is one of the best at that. During the game, he’s an animal, during the week though, he’s the most chill guy on the Eagles.
ES: How ’bout that!? How ’bout that!? There’s a time for battle and there’s a time not to battle. The battle only occurs on Sundays. So the other six days, you gotta do what you gotta do to prepare for battle, then you gotta come home and you gotta do what you gotta do to be the man of the house.
SLAM: How do you think your Cowboys teams would have dealt with Terrell Owens? How do you think Jimmy would have handled him?
ES: I don’t know, I don’t know. Jimmy would have found a way. And I don’t think Jimmy would have put up with his antics towards him. You know Terrell had a tendency to go at a coach or go at a player. Jimmy wouldn’t have put up with that. Jimmy would have had a conversation on the side, and they would have come to some kinda understanding, some kinda way. I think for real, Terrell would have loved it, because to me, some guys respond better to certain kinds of discipline, especially quality, and lets call it, experience. So when you’ve got a coach that’s been there and done that, you can buy into the system. When you’ve got a coach that’s never been there and you try to tell someone what to do and you start losing, it’s over.
SLAM: What team did you most enjoy defeating? Redskins? Giants? Eagles?
ES: [Smiles.] Yeah, yeah, I loved defeating the Redskins. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it with a passion. And I loved it more when Daniel Snyder got the team, for a number of reasons. I did. Because here is a guy who thought he could build a football team just because he has the money to buy players. There’s more to it than that. And he’s not a compassionate person, not a compassionate person at all from what I understand. And that makes me just want to pummel somebody. You know, you hate to see pride, wearing itself on his forehead and his chest. And to me, arrogance sticks out like a sore thumb when you talk about him. And the lack of compassion for others is a problem. Because it’s not that hard to be compassionate; you just choose to.
SLAM: How hard was the transition into retirement from being a professional athlete?
ES: It wasn’t that hard for me. I miss the dollars! I missed the paychecks; don’t get me wrong, but the transition wasn’t hard at all.
SLAM: One more question. Jason Taylor was on Dancing with the Stars while he was still in the NFL. You partook in it well after you retired. Would you have done it if you were still playing?
ES: I don’t think I could have done it. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do it. And I think he realized it in that year that he went to the Redskins how much it kinda hurt him. Because Dancing with the Stars requires a different kind of body structure and a different kind of tempo. Can’t be pumping iron and be flexible at the same time. You know and come back and play a very physical game like football.
SLAM: Bill Parcells was pretty pissed at him…
ES: Jason understands that, but he had to do what he had to do.
SLAM: He’s back in Miami now…
ES: Yea, he [had] a better season too. Because he had year to get his body back right and train properly and get football ready. Dancing with the Stars makes you soft.
SLAM: Going into it, did you realize that it was gonna be like that? Or did you have a crash course in the whole training?
ES: Well all of it was a crash course. Of course, I was done with football, so I didn’t have any problems getting the weight down, period. But I knew it was gonna be tough, a new experience and new techniques and new dances. But I had a great time.
SLAM: You lifted weights for fifteen, twenty years, do you still lift or you got sick of it?
ES: No, No I don’t lift. I need to get back into lifting.
SLAM: You’re carrying it alright
ES: I’m carrying it OK. I’m carrying it good. I’m not trying to get bloated. I try to watch what I eat, and do a little bit of cardio here and there, stay in good shape if I can. But I’m not in a hurry to get any place.
SLAM: Considering we are here for the 20th anniversary of the Reebok Pump, how much has the equipment changed from the time you got into the league to before you went out and how important was it?
ES: I think the equipment’s changed a lot. They have these new shoulder pads you can get on the sideline to cool your body off. Oh lord, I could’ve used those back in the 90’s in Texas stadium when the Eagles came down with the pickle juice. Oh, I could’ve used that when I was out in Arizona and the temperatures were 114 when I was coming off tryin’ to cool my body down. The helmets they have right now might be better as far as shock and all those things. The mouth piece is better with shock. You know, even the pads they’re wearing now are something like body suits that you can wear to cover your ribs, your back, and light protection and so forth and so on. I just think the technology has crossed over into the sports world and is doing a fine job.
SLAM: Do you have any unsuccessful memories? I remember ’95 the Eagles stopped you twice on fourth-and-one in the two minute warning!
ES: Oh yea, oh yea, I remember fumbling the ball in overtime in Houston, the Houston Oilers at the time, and we ended up losing the game. I fumbled, they got it, turned, drove it back down the field, scored a touchdown and won the game. I remember losing a game my senior year in high school, it sucked! I remember losing the NFC Championship against San Fran when Deion was on the other side of the ball and I couldn’t perform at my best because I had hamstring issues, and it sucked. Yea, I remember some losses.