Smith snubs Gators in Hall of Fame speech

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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TWO BITS: Smith’s commitment, Florida profiled

1 » With former Florida Gators running back Emmitt Smith set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, OH, a number of local newspapers have been profiling his exploits both on- and off-the-field. The Pensacola News Journal covered Smith’s commitment to the University of Florida, a very interesting story especially for those not around at the time. Apparently Smith told everyone at Escambia High School that he would don the colors of the school he would choose prior to his announcement. Showing up in red and white, he indicated that he would be committing to Nebraska – a pre-planned deception. “When they called him up to sign, they called him up last,” his mother Mary Smith recalled. “And when they asked him where he was going, Emmitt said, ‘Well, I’m wearing Nebraska colors, I guess I will be going to the University of Florida. There were some very excited people there.”

Some even credit Smith with turning the Gators program around. “It meant a heck of a lot,” said school historian and former media relations director Norm Carlson. “We had the probation, all the other problems in the [19]80s, and we were in need of something to uplift the program and Emmitt was it. I think just the fact he signed with Florida, it really buoyed spirits of Florida fans and certainly the people here.” Former head coach Galen Hall agrees. “Emmitt came here when it looked the bleakest for the Gators, because of the probation we were facing. And for him to come and be a part of it meant a great deal. It allowed us to go out and sell the fact that, hey, here’s a young man who could have gone anywhere, but he’s coming to Florida.”

2 » Concluding a series in which the schools with the brightest future in both football and basketball were determined, CBS Sports listed Florida at No. 1, citing head football coach Urban Meyer’s intensity and head basketball coach Billy Donovan’s determination as the catalysts. Dennis Dodd did a nice job covering Meyer’s health scare, but Gary Parrish takes it to another level while looking at what Donovan has done in his time at Florida. A standout quote is Donovan recalling what he was told prior to the 2005-06 season. [There are some other great quotes, too, so read the article.]

“I’ll never forget this,” he said. “I’m talking to this AAU coach, and I don’t want to name him, but I’m talking to him and he’s telling me, ‘You guys are going to be awful. You’re going to be terrible.’ We were recruiting one of his kids, and he was like, ‘Geez. Who’s my kid going to play with? Joakim Noah? That guy is a role player. Al Horford? He’s a project. Taurean Green is not an SEC guard, and Lee Humphrey is a mid-major catch-and-shoot guy… So he’s telling me all this and I’m listening, but the whole time I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know. I kinda like these guys. I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.’”

Photo Credit: Pensacola News Journal

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SIX BITS: Wilder, Smith, Harvin, Ingram, Heat, golf

1 » Though he did not commit to the team as was rumored late last week due to a falsified e-mail, five-star athlete James Wilder, Jr. (Tampa, FL) does have a leader: the Florida Gators are the “team to beat,” according to Rivals’s Mark Wheeler. “Sources say [his upcoming visits are] more to confirm his choice of Florida than anything else,” Wheeler wrote. “Wilder Jr. is enthused that Florida looks to be moving to a more traditional power running game.” In addition to recruiting fullbacks, the Gators are “expected to still feature the dive play and many inside and off-tackle running plays, but instead of [Tim] Tebow carrying the ball, Wilder would be the guy. Throw in his comfort level at Florida as well as that of his family, and the Gators will be tough to beat.”

2 » Former Florida running back Emmitt Smith has done plenty in his career. An inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, he holds NFL career records for rushing yards (18,355), rushing touchdowns (164) and 100+ yard rushing games (78). The eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion was also the 1989 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and is a member of the Gators’ Ring of Honor. But where he may have made his biggest impact is at Escambia High School, where he began his legacy. The Florida High School Athletic Association Player of the Century, Smith was not only a great player, his presence at the school helped ease racial tensions. “I wasn’t thinking about any racial tensions when I got to Escambia,” Smith told the Canton Repository. “It never dawned on me that I was part of a transformation at the school. I knew Escambia had a negative past, but I saw it was over and done with. I had played with white guys, black guys, all kinds of guys. Maybe that was me being naive.”

Four more BITS on Percy Harvin’s charity work, Cornelius Ingram’s knee, Gators on the Miami Heat and The Open Championship…after the break!
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