Legion Field in Birmingham, like any great venue, has a way of separating the champions from the chaff. Such was the case for University of Florida running back Emmitt Smith.
In only his third college game, Smith rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns against a vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide defense that had pledged to stymie the Gators’ offensive attack. Instead, a star was born.
That was September 19, 1987.
Today, Emmitt Smith is known as one of the greatest running backs of all-time. Near godlike in his football aura, he possesses three Super Bowl rings, was selected to eight Pro Bowls, is an inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and holds the record for career rushing yards in the National Football League (NFL) at 18,355.
Smith’s college career was much more understated than his pro career, which makes it all the more intriguing. First, he was recruited to Florida by Galen Hall, who was the head coach at UF from 1984-1989, after a high school career in which he ran for 8,804 yards and 106 touchdowns. (Retrospectively, one has to wonder why Emmitt, a Pensacola, Florida, native, did not ink with Bobby Bowden at Florida State instead. Perhaps another Smith—Sammie, who was an emerging tailback at FSU—had something to do with that. And by the way, wouldn’t it have been incredible to watch Deion Sanders and Emmitt, who would ultimately play together for the Dallas Cowboys, on the same field in college as well?)
After blistering Alabama’s butt in Birmingham, Smith rushed for 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns his freshman season. The next year, he suffered a knee injury and played in only nine games. Still, he gained 988 yards on 5.3 yards per attempt.
Dallas Morning News columnist Blackie Sherrod once described Emmitt’s running style as, “frantic hopscotching, barefoot, on a blistering sidewalk” and in no game was this more true than against the University of New Mexico his junior season, when he rushed for 316 yards and punched it into the end zone three times. He finished his junior year just one yard short of 1,600, was named SEC Player of the Year, and promptly declared for the NFL Draft. By foregoing his senior season, he missed out on an opportunity to play for Steve Spurrier, who took over the reins in Gainesville in 1990.
Over his three-year college career, Emmitt rushed for 3,928 yards, good enough for 11th on the all-time SEC career rushing yards list. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored 36 touchdowns. He also caught 56 passes for 463 yards and 1 touchdown.
In 1989, he was named an All-American and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting. The recipient that year was Andre Ware.
Smith’s college career propelled him to an even better career in the NFL, where he garnered the tag of “legend.” But in 2006, Emmitt’s college career was appropriately honored, as he became an inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame. H&A
All photos courtesy Florida Athletics
Latest posts by Al Blanton (see all)
- Reliving the greatest era in college basketball—the 1990s - March 22, 2019
- Alabama fans want a good basketball team - March 19, 2019
- The unwritten rules for watching an Alabama football game - March 15, 2019