Smith joins Rice, 5 others in 2010 class

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For the last month or so, Emmitt Smith's life story has been touched on by everybody.

What type of person was he? What type of football player?

Smith has become the most popular man in Dallas, in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., and now here at the site of Super Bowl XLIV.

The former Dallas Cowboys running back's popularity reached its highest point Saturday evening when he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, as expected.

"It's just an honor to be a blessing because people have blessed me," Smith said after the announcment.

Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, will join all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice, another first-ballot inductee, along with guard Russ Grimm, linebacker Rickey Jackson, cornerback Dick LeBeau, running back Floyd Little and defensive tackle John Randle as members of the class of 2010.

Charles Haley, who played with Smith and Rice, and Tim Brown, who attended Dallas Woodrow Wilson High School, did not make the cut.

Smith becomes the 12th Cowboys player elected to the Hall and joins 25 other running backs, including former Cowboys great Tony Dorsett, in receiving a bust at Canton.

"I feel I achieved every goal I had as a player, from Pop Warner to the NFL," Smith said prior to his election. "My goals were winning championships and winning Super Bowls. When I thought I could reach Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, it became a goal."

During his career, Smith rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, both NFL records. He also earned eight Pro Bowls, four All-Pro selections and won three Super Bowls. Smith was named NFL MVP in 1993 and Super Bowl XXVII MVP after the Cowboys beat Buffalo, 30-13.

In a five-year span, Smith won four rushing titles and he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns three times.

"Emmitt didn't get here ready to have the career that he was going to have, he got to have, he got here with talent and instincts," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "We really had to evolve into understand ... what it was going to take to keep himself in physical condition to have the career he was gong to have."

Smith wasn't the fastest running back, but his durability enabled him to crank out yards and touchdowns. He played 15 years, for the Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. Among the Hall of Fame running backs, only Marcus Allen and Joe Perry played longer at 16 years each.

"It's not something I can say I ever really dreamed about," Smith said. "I never said, 'I have to make the Hall of Fame.' If I could make steps that could set me apart in my career, then I've had a successful career."

But Smith's family felt he could always achieve these goals. Smith's father, Emmitt Smith II, said all it took was watching his son play Pop Warner football for the first time in Pensacola to give him confidence in his abilities.

"No doubt in my mind. He had it," the elder Smith said. "You could just watch how he moved around out there that he was good, very good."

Smith became emotional twice during his news conference Saturday, once when talking about his father, who had to stop playing semipro football to take care of his mother, and when he talked about his kids.

"We play this game because we love it," he said. "The dollars [are] something part of it, and we learn how to negotiate hard. But we could play this game for nothing, and we left everything on the field."

Dorsett, who rushed for a 12,739 yards in a 12-year career, said watching Smith in his rookie year proved to him he could reach higher goals.

"Congratulations to Mr. Smith, I have nothing but admiration for his career and for everything that he's done on and off the football field," Dorsett said. "I go way back to when he was young in his career and I saw a move that Emmitt made and I jumped up out of my chair, 'With instincts like that, this man is going to be in the Hall of Fame.' And you know what, I was right."

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