"But one time when I scored a touchdown for the Cowboys and I just put the ball on the ground, my daddy said, 'Why leave a perfectly good ball just lying there?' " Emmitt says. "So now I collect the ball. The equipment man and I have a deal worked out. I slip him the ball, and he hides it, and I get it later."
In the off-season, Smith still lives at home in Pensacola with his parents and three brothers and one of his two sisters. When you ask him the standard questions about how he avoided getting involved with drugs and street gangs and the usual teenage trouble, he gives you a strange look and says, "It never occurred to me."
When Emmitt was an infant, Mary says, he would quiet down by watching an entire football game on TV, "just sort of rocking in his little swing, but watching everything." When he was five, he was playing two-on-two tackle games with his older cousins. At seven he was in an organized program, playing in the mini-mite division of the Salvation Army Optimists League. In his first two years of high school he had the odd experience of playing on Friday night and then going back to the same field one night later to watch his 40-year-old father play free safety for the Pensacola Wings of the semipro Dixie League. "Didn't feel funny at all," Emmitt says. "I kind of liked the speed he showed."
Thomas liked what Emmitt showed him on Friday nights. "For four years we did three things, and won two state championships doing them," Thomas says. "Hand the ball to Emmitt, pitch the ball to Emmitt, throw the ball to Emmitt. It was no secret. Everyone knew we were going to get the ball to him. It was just a question of how."
The Cowboys are learning.
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