Et tu, Emmitt?
Only the second former Florida Gators star to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, running back Emmitt Smith did not mention the University of Florida once during his enshrinement speech Saturday night. Jumping from his love, admiration and appreciation for the Dallas Cowboys to how integral his head coach and offensive coordinator at Escambia High School were to his career, Smith spoke as if he never even attended college.
Not only did Smith play at Florida, he broke the Gators’ all-time single game rushing record (224 yards) in his first full game with the team and went on to smash that record with a 316-yard game in 1989. He also set school records for rushing yards in a season (1,599), longest rushing play (96), career rushing yards (3,928) and career rushing touchdowns (36). In all, Smith was responsible for 58 Gators records in only three seasons on the field, many of which still stand today. And, upon leaving for the NFL, he received a place in UF’s exclusive Ring of Honor and the College Football Hall of Fame.
But apparently none of that even occurred. At the very least, you would not know that it did if you listened to Smith speak Saturday night.
There are two schools of thought on this snub: Smith was either so emotional and caught up with the event that he accidentally skipped over Florida (after all, he did memorize his speech and paused plenty of times), or he purposely left out the Gators due to something unforeseen. It is hard to fathom another player from a top-flight college program forgetting or purposely omitting his school entirely.
Smith is certainly not Florida’s biggest cheerleader, and his relationship with UF is not as smooth as some of his peers’. Nevertheless, he had millions of Gators fans cheering him on throughout his career and tuning in Saturday night to take pride in one of their own earning professional football’s greatest honor. He did not mention the school, his college coaches, his fellow student-athletes or the fans – not once.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is about a player’s professional career. One earns the honor by what they accomplish on an NFL gridiron, not a college field. Even so, to disappoint an entire nation – Gator Nation – without so much as a single word of appreciation or nostalgic memory is simply unacceptable if done on purpose.
Smith deserved his honor Saturday. He played his heart out in Dallas and at Florida. He is one of the greatest Gators to ever step on the field and arguably the greatest rusher in NFL history. His accomplishments at UF and the pride he has brought its fans cannot and should not be diminished or dismissed because of one particular speech.
What Smith said Saturday night touched millions of fans across the country. But what he didn’t say certainly had a greater impact on one nation.
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