Upon signing Smith to a two-year contract in late March, McGinnis told his new back that he needed him to be a positive presence as much as a force in the offense. So on many days of the Cardinals' off-season program—as was often the case in Dallas—Smith was one of first guys in the weight room, showing up at 6:45 a.m. "One morning Emmitt walks in with a nice suit on," Kendall says. "I'm wearing the same shorts I've had on for four days and some T-shirt. I said to him, 'You got a board meeting somewhere today?' He just said, 'Nah, this is the way I come to work.' Emmitt doesn't need another check. He's here because he wants to play."
Another reason Arizona signed Smith was his potential as a marketing tool—this may be the closest Cardinals fans ever get to football royalty. Average attendance was a league-low 40,910 last year, and the team still has three seasons left at outdated Sun Devil Stadium, a metal-bleachered hotbox, before moving into its new facility. But Smith's signing didn't spark a rush to the box office; the franchise has seen no significant rise in ticket sales. That's what one winning record in 15 seasons will do for you.
One thing the Cardinals want to do for Smith is to make sure his legs are fresh for the Sept. 7 opener in Detroit against the Lions—not to mention for the Oct. 5 road date against the Cowboys. "Like I told you earlier," Roland said to Smith before last Saturday morning's practice, "you tell me how much work you need."
As always, Smith will want a lot once the season starts. When you consider that for 20 years—four at Escambia ( Fla.) High, three at Florida and 13 in Dallas—he has been a primary target of the opposing defense, the biggest surprise is that Smith didn't enter camp with nagging injuries. He says he feels great. But he knows what the critics are saying. And that only makes the chip on his shoulder bigger.
"Is it in me?" he boomed, repeating the last question before practice resumed. "Is it in me? Shoot, yeah! I truly believe this is my destiny: to help the Cardinals do great things."