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"My eyes got big," Smith recalls of the moment when backfield coach Don Breaux delivered the news. "I'm glad they waited to tell me. I probably would have thrown up."
Smith kept the secret to himself as he loosened up, but when he returned to the locker room he sought out Williams. Smith promised the Old Man that he would run hard. Then he giggled about his good fortune with Branch, who said, "Kick some ass, T."
When the Washington offense exploded in the second quarter, Smith ran for 122 yards on five carries, including a 58-yard touchdown romp. "I felt so good that day, I could have gotten 300 yards," says Smith, who was removed from the game with seven minutes still to play. "I had so much confidence in the offensive line, and I was focused on what I had to do."
On the sideline during the third quarter, he debated with Sanders, who by then had caught six passes for 177 yards and two TDs, as to which of them might win the MVP trophy.
Of course, that award went to Williams. But Smith, a virtual unknown who had burst into the Super Bowl spotlight, also was the target of a media crush after the game. "All of a sudden, there were cameras and reporters in my face. It made me nervous," he says. "For 45 minutes they came up, in waves of 30 at a time. They asked my whole life story. I wanted to tell them how I felt during the game, before the game. I wanted to talk about what was deep in my heart. But I was tongue-tied. It was one of the best feelings I ever had, and I couldn't talk about it."
These days Smith feels a bit more relaxed talking about himself to strangers, which he has had to do while interviewing for jobs since being released by the Cowboys. After combing the Dallas newspapers, he sought employment at a parcel service to drive trucks and at an airline "to do anything." He wound up working for a telemarketing firm, conducting consumer surveys for $8 an hour.
But Smith hasn't given up on himself as a pro football player. He's planning to go to Orlando on Feb. 20 for a tryout with the new World League of American Football, and if he doesn't make it there, he will try to catch on with a Canadian Football League team in the spring.
Smith, like Williams, has learned that Super Bowl fame can be fleeting. But it is also enduring—for them as well as for Joe Namath and Percy Howard. Whenever he returns to his hometown of Hobbs, N.Mex., to visit his mother, Smith stops at the local bank, asks for his safe deposit box and checks on his Super Bowl ring.
"I was so young—the Super Bowl was all a dream to me," he says. "It didn't dawn on me that we won it until we got our rings. I remember right before the 1988 season, there was a ring ceremony at Redskin Park. We had a barbecue for the families. My ring was in a little blue box with a little ribbon and a white bow on top. I opened the box and said, This is mine. No matter how long I play, they will never take this away.' "