Today traffic is backed up, and every time Emmitt sees an opening, somebody fills it. Only a couple of miles from his house he comes to a tollbooth and hardly stops, throwing two quarters at the toll machine—one for himself, one for the reporter following in the car behind him. Emmitt puts an arm out the window and waves for the reporter to drive on, but the guy doesn't understand. He must think Emmitt's pointing at the sky or something, because he stops and feeds the machine a third quarter, and by then Emmitt is long gone, weaving through traffic, blowing past everybody.
Emmitt drives like he runs the football, which is to say hard and without pretense, and in minutes he has lost the reporter, and the reporter has lost him, and all Emmitt can do is pull over and wait in the parking lot of a shopping mall, and everybody knows how he hates to wait, how waiting to him is the slowest form of death.
Back in 1990, his rookie year, Emmitt had to be the first one off the ground after he was tackled. He was that impatient. He would push everybody off and race back to the huddle to see if Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman would let him run the ball again. The defense couldn't understand why Emmitt was in such a hurry, unless he had an attitude problem. But it wasn't that, and it wasn't about being young, either. "I just had this energy," Emmitt says. "I had this...enthusiasm." Then one day after a game, his father, Emmitt Smith Jr., pulled him aside and gave him a look. Emmitt's dad doesn't talk much, and sometimes when he gives you a look, it's like he's giving you a smack in the chops. He wondered why Emmitt couldn't be patient and wait on the ground like a normal person. "Son," he said, "you know how much energy you waste trying to be the first one up like that?"
Emmitt thought about it for a minute. "You're right," he finally said. And the next week, when he was tackled, he lay there and looked at the world and admired it and felt altogether grateful for his place in it.
"You hurt, Emmitt?" came a voice. It was a guy on the other team. Everybody had gotten off Emmitt by then, and he was still lying there, just as his father had told him to.
"Hurt?" Emmitt said. "No, I ain't hurt." And then a remarkable thing happened. Before Emmitt could rise on his own power, the guy was offering him a hand. He was helping Emmitt up, expending some of his own energy, conserving Emmitt's.
There was a powerful lesson in that, if you had time to look. But who has time anymore, least of all Emmitt, the busiest man in all of football? And now in the parking lot of the shopping mall, after having blown about 15 minutes of his valuable time, Emmitt is starting to get jumpy. He wanted to give the reporter a tour of his house—let him meet the dogs, show him the minibars and the porcelain doll collection, walk him through the master bedroom suite and bath. Emmitt drives to where his car can be seen from the street, and at long last the reporter arrives. "Why'd you take off like that?" the guy asks, sticking his head out his car window.
But Emmitt doesn't answer. He shifts into drive and gives his Lexus a long, tall drink of unleaded.
The truth is, Emmitt's been on the run since the day he was born, his body clock ticking faster than everybody else's. The pace hasn't hurt him. He's entering the last year of his contract with the Cowboys, and after the 1996 season he's likely to sign a new deal with Dallas making him the highest-paid player in football. "That's all up to Jerry," Emmitt says, referring to the team's owner, Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys aren't all there is to Emmitt, though. He's also a businessman who at last count presided over four enterprises: Emmitt, Inc. (a collectibles and trading-card company), Emmitt Smith Communications Corporation (which sells and leases cellular phones and pagers), Emmitt Zone, Inc. (which licenses his name to outfits such as Reebok, Starter and Scoreboard) and Emmitt Smith Charities (which handles his humanitarian endeavors). With all that—and football to boot—there's hardly a day on Emmitt's calendar that isn't filled a year in advance.