Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had plenty of tread on his tires, so to speak, during a 15-year NFL career that included three Super Bowl wins with the Dallas Cowboys and a record 18,355 career rushing yards. Smith, 48, has recently teamed with Michelin to share best practices for coaching teen drivers during National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 15-21).
“I’m joining forces with Michelin to spread awareness about teenage driving, and safety around teenage driving,” says Smith, who has four children, including a teenage driver. “We’re sharing the important tips and practices for parents to coach their teens up.”
We caught up with Smith to discuss his earliest driving memories, the Dallas Cowboys’ heyday and elite running backs, past and present.
How’d you learn to drive, back in the day?
Wayyyy back in the day?
It wasn’t that long ago, man.
Oh no. It was back in the '80s. ’83, ’84, somewhere in there. My pops actually taught me how to drive. He took me out to an open field in a Mazda 240ZX stick shift. And taught me how to drive a stick. That was my first driver’s lesson. From that point on, I was driving all sorts of cars. But learning a stick taught me a very valuable lesson. If you can handle a stick, you can handle most cars.
What was your first car that you owned?
My first car that I owned was a Nissan Maxima. It was an ’85. Used car. Like most parents go out and buy their kids used cars. And when you’re buying used cars, you gotta check the tires and make sure tires are good. Because when you buy a car used, you get the tires used.
What’s your favorite car you ever owned?
My favorite car I ever owned was probably my Lamborghini Murciélago.
You won three Super Bowls. What’s your favorite Super Bowl memory?
Probably that very first Super Bowl that we won. There is nothing like that very first time of playing in the Super Bowl in Pasadena, California, fulfilling a childhood dream. There is nothing sweeter than that.
After that particular Super Bowl, I found myself in a limousine behind the whole entire motorcade, going back to the hotel. Watching the cops — in front of and behind us, keeping people 200, 300 yards behind the motorcade itself — was kind of cool. I was hanging out the top of the sunroof of the limousine, just enjoying my moment, enjoying myself at that Super Bowl.
You won Super Bowls with two different coaches, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. What were the differences in their styles and personalities?
Jimmy was hard-nosed, very focused, very disciplinarian coach, drove you to your own level of excellence. And Barry was a little bit more laid back, more of a, “You guys should be professionals. I shouldn’t have to motivate you. I shouldn’t have to babysit you. You need to want this for yourself,” kind of a guy. He was more of a players’ coach. If you needed some time off, he gave it to you. But Jimmy? There was no time off. The only time you needed off was during the offseason.
Everybody always talks about the '90s Cowboys. They’ve become a tall tale. Were things as crazy as people make it seem, or has that taken on a life of its own?
No. Things were crazy. If social media was during our time, America’s “Star” would have a bunch of tarnished spots on it.
Speaking of the “Star,” Jerry Jones is still an NFL power broker. What’s your favorite Jerry Jones story?
He is a larger than life personality. I don’t necessarily have one favorite story. But Jerry Jones is a man who has a vision for what he wants to do. He is as competitive as any athlete I’ve been around. He does not take “no” for an answer. And he is definitely the master of leverage. He knows how to leverage everything to the fullest.
The next generation of Dallas Cowboys running back is Ezekiel Elliott. He’s a special talent, but has had some issues off the field. What are your thoughts, on all things Zeke?
I think he has tremendous talent and tremendous upside. Yes, he has had a few challenging moments right now. But he’s young, and hopefully he learns from these things and makes the necessary improvements and adjustments, just like you have to do in any football game. You have to make in-game adjustments.
Hopefully he’s learning what to do, how to become a professional athlete and how to take the responsibility of being in the limelight and chance to influence so many other people’s lives, seriously, to the point where he’s able to maximize and capitalize on it in the long run.
You and Barry Sanders were always compared to each other. What are your thoughts, and what is your relationship with Barry Sanders?
I would like to think I have a very, very good relationship with Barry Sanders. To me, I respect him to the utmost. I thought he was a consummate professional. I thought he was a superb football player. In my opinion, I still think he’s the first back that I know, in my heart, could’ve rushed for over 20,000 yards for the first time in NFL history, if he would have remained on the football field.