SBD/Issue 87/Sports Industrialists

THE DAILY Goes One-on-One With Former NFLer Emmitt Smith

In 15 seasons in the NFL, EMMITT SMITH ran for more yards and scored more touchdowns than anyone in league history. He spent 13 years with the Cowboys, helping the team win three Super Bowl titles. Smith had a game plan for life after football. He joined with another former Cowboys star, ROGER STAUBACH, in a business venture, SmithCypress Partners, a real estate development company based in Dallas, of which Smith is President. And in November, Smith and CHERYL BURKE ran away from the competition and were named champions of the “Dancing With the Stars” television show. Smith spoke recently with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.

Date & Place of Birth: 5-15-69 in Pensacola, Florida.
Education: University of Florida.
Favorite vacation spot: Cabo San Lucas.
Favorite music: KIRK FRANKLIN and R&B.
Favorite book: The holy Bible.
Favorite movie: “Gladiator,” “Titanic” and “Message in a Bottle.”
Pet peeve: I don’t like to be tardy.
Quote: “If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride and never quit, you could be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”
Any regrets: I should have been a real estate developer a long time ago.
Business philosophy: It’s better to serve and help others be successful than it is to focus on your own success.
Best move: Off the field, it was aligning myself with a company like Roger Staubach and Cypress. On the field, it was retiring when I did.
Something about you that would surprise people: That I can dance. That was a big surprise.
Greatest competitor: TIGER WOODS.
Smartest player: MAGIC JOHNSON.

Former NFLer
Emmitt Smith

Q: You had quite a career. In fact, you’re still adding careers.

Smith: Well, life is a career within itself.

Q: GEORGE WILL wrote, “Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life: violence and committee meetings.” Obviously it was not a mistake for you.

Smith: (Laughing) Did that guy ever play football, or is he just talking about it?

Q: He was just writing about it.

Smith: That’s why he doesn’t understand the game. But he is right in that it is a very physical game. But I’ll tell you what: I love the game. I love the life lessons that the game teaches you.

Q: What are the life lessons that football teaches you?

Smith: It teaches you to get your behind off the ground when you get knocked down. It teaches you how not to be afraid to step out there and compete against people who are sometimes twice your size. It also teaches you how to maximize your own potential within an environment that’s geared to stop you. It teaches a lot about life in ways that will make a football player see the positives when everyone else sees the negatives.

Q: Most memorable NFL moment?

Smith: There are two. The negative: We lost. But within that negative, I saw the fight in a ball club and the will to never quit. Football teaches you how to continue to persevere and overcome challenges and obstacles that you face. On the positive side for me personally, it was the game against the N.Y. Giants in the 1992-93 season. I separated my shoulder at halftime and played the whole second half with a bad shoulder and still was able to be effective.

Q: Players today celebrate touchdowns, sacks and sometimes even routine plays. You had a lot to celebrate on the field but were not overly demonstrative. Is there a line between celebrating the moment and showing up an opponent?

I think there is a line. If you watched PACMAN JONES last week, he scored a touchdown and jumped on the goal post, which I thought was fairly cute. That was cool. And when you see a guy LADAINIAN TOMLINSON score a TD and he rolls the ball to the official, or LARRY JOHNSON does the [diamond] sign, those are just celebrating the moment. But when you see a guy run to the center [of the field] and stand in the middle of the star and throw his hands up after scoring a touchdown, that is showing up an opponent.

Q: Who did that?

Smith: Who did that?

Q: Was that T.O.?

Smith: You know who that was. I don’t have to tell you who that was. (Laughing) I didn’t say it. You said it.

Q: If you could be commissioner and could change one thing about the game, what would it be?

Smith: The league needs to shore up the vagueness of some of the rules. It may not be the league; it may just be the interpretation of the rules. Sometimes the officials want you to just tap the quarterback, and sometimes they want you to slam him to the ground. The player doesn’t know how the official is going [to rule]. If you slam the quarterback to the ground, the official may throw a flag for a personal foul.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing the NFL?

Smith: How to maintain and continue to grow their fan base, and to create product offering for their fan base to keep them interested in the game and in the brand that the NFL is offering.

Q: How can the game be improved for the fan in the stadium and the fan at home?

Smith Believes Teams Should
Look At Improving Fan Experience

Smith: I think you have to give the fan an opportunity to have much more of a personal experience. And whether that means meeting players in the locker room after games, that’s something that teams may have to look at. How to give the fans an experience they would never get anywhere else.

Q: What was your biggest adjustment to life after football?

Smith: Organizing my daily schedule and prioritizing what’s important and what’s not important. There’s a lot we can all do to enhance our business careers and our personal careers.

Q: Are you a fantasy football player?

Smith: I’m not, but I want to do it. I want to go through a draft myself. Every year I keep saying that, but I find myself being too late.

Q: Who would be your No. 1 pick?

Smith: LaDainian Tomlinson or PEYTON MANNING.

Q: What’s the best new idea in football?

Smith: The field cam. It’s brought the game closer to the viewing public.

Q: You have teamed with Roger Staubach in a commercial real estate venture.

Smith: Roger has a real estate company, which deals with brokerage on the industrial office and retail side of the business.

What kind of service does your company provide?

Smith: We provide build-to-suit services for corporate America. What I mean by that is, we take a company like Walgreens or CVS and build their buildings for them. We also build shopping centers, power centers and regional centers, destination spots and retail apartments, condos and things like that.

Q: What do you bring to that team?

Smith: Obviously I’m learning the business from the ground up, but I’ve invested in it for a number of years, so I have a general understanding. I bring not only discipline, work ethic, drive and determination, but also a strategic vision and integrity, a football brand and a different perspective on the real estate development business in terms of star power, quality -- things of that nature.

Q: What, if anything, in your previous experience helped prepare you for your current role?

Smith: Drafting classes in school. Understanding how to draw and design architecture renderings and to read floor plans and electrical plans. Knowing how to evaluate sites and look for site locations. Knowing what’s important to clients we service. Those are some of the things I’ve learned that will now help me.

Q: You said on “20/20”: “Football was one vehicle to take me to one end of the road, but I’m trying to make it to the other end.” What’s at the other end?

Smith: When I leave this planet, I want to leave a mark: that I was a man who achieved a lot of great things throughout his whole life, whether it was on the football field or in the world of business, and that I made an impact on the community and on the world in a positive manner.
When I look at the other end of the road, there’s a destination for me, and that’s retirement. I’m trying to create generational wealth for my family and provide experiences for others that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive. And that means being philanthropic about what I’m doing throughout my life.

Q: WALT FRAZIER said he wants you to send him some of what he called your “smooth moves.”

Smith: It’s kind of hard for me to send him some smooth moves, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. When I get the tapes [from “Dancing With the Stars”], or if they ever create a DVD, I’ll make sure to send him some.

Q: How did the idea for “Dancing With the Stars” come about?

Smith: I was approached about two and a half years ago, and I said no. This year, I was approached again. I think JERRY [RICE] helped paved the way, in terms of seeing that the show had potential to grow to multiple levels. This time, the timing was right. I thought it was the right thing for me to do from a business and strategic standpoint.

Q: It was a business decision?

Smith: It was a strategic decision because of what was presented through the opportunity. It made all the sense in the world to give it a shot. There was a lot of upside and very little downside.

Q: You have said football players have a career in their helmets, as opposed to “basketball and other sports where you’re able to see the faces clearer.” The “Dancing With the Stars” show gave you more face time, so to speak.

Smith: It gave me a lot of face time. It gave me an opportunity to allow the country into my life and get a chance to know me up close and personal and to see me in a different light. It also showed that I had the capability to learn and expand on what I’ve been able to do. It showed that I was not so big of an athlete that I could not do something that 99.9% of the men in the world probably don’t want to do: face a difficult challenge like ballroom dancing. I was very confident that I could do it, that I had the ability to bring an entertainment value to the “Dancing With the Stars” series.

Q: You called it a “great branding opportunity for Emmitt Smith the brand,” and asked, “How do I translate that equity into my business?” How do you do that?

Smith: You have to look at what the marketplace is saying about an individual. Through that show experience there were a lot of buzz words that were thrown out about me as a performer, a person and an athlete. When you look at what came out of that show in the form of those key words and brand attributes, and when you look at what I was able to accomplish in football, you put all that together. The question then becomes, how do you get Corporate America to buy into you as an individual who has a brand.

Q: What does the Emmitt Smith brand stand for?

Smith: I have high integrity, a great work ethic, am very disciplined and focused. I have accountability, credibility. Not only that, I’m a performer, a champion, a winner. I’m humble. I’m not arrogant. I’m confident. And when you start breaking down the attributes, you start talking about qualities like a great smile, fun. Women were saying “sexy,” “good looking” -- that’s what people were saying, not me saying it. So many key buzz words that were there that I feel my brand stands for. I think it’s all very positive.

Q: What’s next? Your former teammates DARYL JOHNSTON, TROY AIKMAN and MICHAEL IRVIN have all made the transition behind the mike. Any interest in broadcasting?

Smith: Yes, as a matter of fact I was working with a speech coach today. Right now, we’re looking at a strategic way not only of approaching it but who I would have an opportunity to work with.

Any interest in buying an NFL team?

Smith: That’s down the road, but, yes, I do have an interest in buying an NFL team.

Q: Do you foresee the Cowboys being for sale?

Smith: I don’t think so, but I would love to buy the Arizona Cardinals.

Q: Why the Cardinals?

Smith: Nothing but upside.

Smith Says He And Tomlinson
Share A Lot Of Similarities

Q: Do any current NFL rushers remind you of yourself?

Smith: LaDainian Tomlinson. We have a very similar running style. He’s faster than I was, and I think he may even be a little stronger. But we both have a low center of gravity. We’re both very shifty. He has great vision and a strong stiff arm. Just a well-rounded athlete. Plus the kid came to my camp years ago. I’m very proud of that.

Q: You had an impact on him.

I believe I did. That part makes me feel good. That’s the impact and the legacy of leaving something behind for other people through our life.

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