Emmitt Smith honors dad's sacrifices

CANTON, Ohio -- Emmitt Smith cried several times Saturday night when talking about his life as an NFL player as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He shed tears when talking about his former teammate, fullback Daryl Johnston. "You mean the world to me … not just because we shared the same backfield but because you sacrificed so much for me," Smith told him.

Smith said another man sacrificed so that he could live his dream of playing in the NFL: his father, Emmitt II.

When the elder Smith was growing up in Pensacola, Fla., he was offered a scholarship to play football at Fisk University. But his mother was sick, and he turned down the scholarship to care for her. Instead, Emmitt II played semipro football and drove for a Pensacola bus company.

So when the newest member of the Hall of Fame would play high school football Friday nights, he would watch his father play the next day.

For more than 25 years, the son would see the father working for the bus company, never knowing how good a football player he was.

"Now, I did not know all the sacrifices until I became older," Smith said. "During those times they didn't talk much about those sacrifices, and as a child you're growing up seeing your father doing what he's doing. You don't know how he got to that point; there was never a discussion."

Toward the end of his speech Saturday, Smith spoke with emotion about his father. He talked about the man who made the sacrifice.

Every yard Smith gained in the NFL, 18,355 of them; every touchdown, 164; every carry, 4,409, was in some way dedicated to his father. Smith said he was playing for his father and his father's father, and his own son, E.J.

The sacrifice his father made before he was born resonated with Smith. The elder Smith had told his son he was living through him. When he saw No. 22, he saw what might have been if he had taken advantage of the opportunity.

Most times, sons look up to their dads. In this case, it was the dad looking up to the son.

"I can relate to it and having an opportunity to live his father's dream," said Michael Irvin, who had spoken about his own dad during his speech when he was inducted in 2007. "God gave his father a second chance to get to that dream through Emmitt because his father made the right choice in giving up his dream to take care of his mother. That's lovely, man, that's lovely when you think about it."

Smith kept his speech a secret from his family members not so much to surprise them, but to express his feelings in a personal way that only they would understand.

When he spoke of how his father sacrificed going to college to take care of his mother, Smith's parents -- Mary and Emmitt II, sitting in the front row -- shook their heads.

"When you walked around [Pensacola] and run into players who knew him when he played and start hearing stories, you're like, 'Yeah, but where's the tape?'" Smith said. "Everybody says, 'Yeah, yeah, I hear you.' Y'all are just making that up, but at the end of the day, too many people say the same thing, and there's some consistency in that. Where there's smoke there's fire, and he obviously had some fire in his behind when he was running around playing."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.