A few years ago Emmitt was earning only about $500,000 a year in endorsement money. Other celebrity athletes were making fortunes; Michael Jordan led the pack with roughly $40 million a year. Emmitt decided he could be doing better. He gave his agent six months to come up with a plan to market him better, and when the agent failed to satisfy him, Emmitt hired somebody else. "I want to be the Michael Jordan of football," he told Werner Scott of the Advantage Marketing Group, a Dallas firm that now oversees Emmitt's commercial ventures.
After Emmitt was named MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII in January 1994, Scott organized a summit of his own at Walt Disney World in Orlando. He called it the Team Emmitt Summitt, and he brought together marketing reps from companies that cither had a relationship with Emmitt or wanted to develop one. The group spent a couple of days trying to decide how best to sell Emmitt to the world, and Emmitt was there for every meeting, taking notes, pitching ideas of his own.
"I don't want to overexploit myself," he says now. "But to sit here and be in the position I'm in and not really explore my opportunities and maximize them, I'd be wasting my talent. I'd be dumb." Since 1995 he has earned as much from endorsements as he has from the Cowboys. "Maybe in the near future," he says, "we can double or triple that. Maybe next year."
If he can wait that long.
The pace, the drive, the hunger—they're nothing new to Emmitt. He hustled even as a kid, always a step ahead of others his age, always looking for records to topple.
Nine months old, for instance, and he had already figured out how to climb out of his crib. His family would be eating in the kitchen or sitting in the den, and Emmitt would appear with a look of hot, eager triumph on his face. Try, the look seemed to say. Try and catch me. They'd run at him with arms outstretched, and he'd scamper just past their grasp, an escape artist even then.
A month or two later, not even a year old, Emmitt started working on his game. His mother had noticed that he quieted down whenever there was football on TV, so she took to placing him in a swing in front of the set every time a game was on. Emmitt would sit there transfixed, his dark, wobbling eyes following the action to all points on the screen. He had the keenest concentration, as if he were memorizing plays, sets, formations. "Football," Emmitt says. "I remember it before anything else. Sitting there watching, wanting to play. It's my earliest memory. Before anything else, there was football."
At two he was walking the edges of curbs and the tops of fences, his arms spread out like the wings of an airplane, and not even a big, fast wind could knock him down. On the playground you couldn't tackle him, either. Emmitt was like one if those inflatable punching dummies: No matter low hard you hit the thing. I never fell over. At eight his legs were thick and knotted with muscle, his shoulders nicely rounded. He played mini-mite football, but there vas nothing mini or mite about him.
His father drove a Pensacola city bus, and his mother was a document clerk for a bank. The Smiths were low-income, so for a time hey lived in a housing project on busy Cervantes street. Even though they didn't have much money, Emmitt knew what made the world go around. His grandfather would take him to the bank and lecture him on the importance of hard work, sacrifice, hustle. Emmitt loved going to the bank. He wanted things, and he was willing to work to get them. When he was in high school and his mother couldn't afford to buy him the designer clothes he favored, he took on menial jobs and scrimped and saved and bought the clothes himself.
"That was a valuable lesion," he would say many years later. "It gave me a sense of independence. It showed me that if I earn my own money, then I've got [he right to spend it on whatever I want, and nobody can say anything about it."