NFL all-time leading rusher, three-time Super Bowl champion, Pro Football Hall of Famer, Dancing With The Stars champion, businessman, entrepreneur, author, and now: distinguished speaker.
These are just a few of the accolades that Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith has accumulated throughout his illustrious career, all of which he spoke about on Thursday during his visit to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg.
Smith’s journey to the Rio Grande Valley was part of UTRGV’s Distinguished Speaker series. He is the first in a lineup of speakers that includes Ruth Carter, an Academy Award-winning costume designer who is known for her work on Marvel’s “Black Panther,” as well as actor, stand-up comedian and producer John Leguizamo.
A crowd of students, distinguished guests and general fans began lining up outside the Performing Arts Complex around 5:30 p.m.
Omar Rodriguez traveled from Los Fresnos to see and hear Smith speak.
“I’ve been a Cowboys fan forever, and Emmitt Smith was the motor behind the ‘90s Cowboys, so I thought I’d come and check him out,” Rodriguez said prior to Smith taking the stage. “I wish they’d have more people (like Smith) who’ve struggled through life and found success. Our area is so highly economically depressed. It would be awesome for these kids to see that there is a way out, you can do it, and here’s a good example.”
Smith took the stage at approximately 7:30 p.m. after being introduced by Henry Fisher of the UTRGV golf team. The Pro Football Hall of Famer was greeted by a rousing ovation as he walked on stage.
“How ‘bout them Cowboys,” yelled someone from the crowd, to which Smith responded with his own “How ‘bout them Cowboys.”
Smith began his speech by recognizing that he had not been in McAllen since 1992 when he participated in a charity basketball game.
“I am truly honored by the fact that you’ve extended the opportunity for me to come back and be a part of the speaker series,” Smith said.
“I am here tonight just to try and inspire each and every one of you to achieve your own level of greatness,” Smith continued. “Because many times people think that, you know, celebrities and things like that are just for certain people. It’s not. We are all clothed in our own talent, and we all have the opportunity to achieve a level of greatness.”
Smith used his own humble beginnings, growing up in the projects of Pensacola, Florida, as motivation for the crowd.
“One day I was sitting on the floor, and my father and some of his friends was watching the football game,” Smith recalled. “I’ll never forget it. I was sitting on the floor, I could see the excitement in their faces and feel the energy of the room. I just started grasping that energy. I turned to my father and said that one day I’m going to play football.
“And I’m going to play for the Dallas Cowboys,” Smith said, which was immediately met with cheers from the audience.
Smith would go on to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1990, and immediately became a huge factor in the team’s success by earning Rookie of the Year honors. Throughout his 15-year NFL career, he would go on to rush for 18,355 yards, including 11 straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
Smith’s message throughout the evening was that of hard work and perseverance.
“You are more than just a student,” Smith said. “You are more than just a son or daughter. You are more than, and you will become more than the next person, if you choose to.”