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NFL - The Courage of Men

By Will Meadows
Monday, August 5th, 2002
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Courage is defined as "the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery." This is the term often used to describe the late great Walter Payton. Courage is also one of the words used to describe the man who is going to break Payton's all-time NFL rushing record -- Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith.

Emmitt Smith was recently honored as this year's recipient of The Spirit of Sweetness Award. The Walter Payton Foundation Web site at Payton34.com says the award is given in recognition of a God-given ability enhanced with discipline, style, and leading by example. It also states that the recipient shall possess humility, pride, and love for family, the willingness to give back, and wear an approachable smile that emulates kindness to everyone. No one emulates this award better than Emmitt Smith.

During his acceptance speech, Emmitt talked about how much it meant to him to receive this award. He spoke of what an honor it was for him to be compared to a man and his family that exemplifies what the game of football is all about. He spoke of how much Walter Payton means to him. As he spoke these words of acceptance, tears were streaming down his face.

I was very moved by the sight of this great athlete, whose name is synonymous with class on and off the field, show an emotion not normally seen outside of retirement or winning a championship.

Some say champions are made, while others say from birth destiny calls their names. There are no real answers to this argument. Valid points will be made for both sides without an agreement ever being decided. A case such as Emmitt's can be seen from both sides of the coin.

On May 15th, 1969, the heir to the NFL rushing throne was born in Pensacola Florida. By the age of 13, Emmitt was dominating Pop Warner league kids. Sure, everyone knows of some athletic prodigy who shines among the competition. Emmitt Smith was different because at this young age, he already displayed some of the characteristics that would lead to his next step towards gridiron dominance.

Smith arrived at Escambia High School in Pensacola as a skinny kid known for his exploits as a junior high Pop Warner legend. At this point, in time his natural ability took over on the playing field. In his freshman year, he scored 19 touchdowns while rushing for 1,525 yards. But in his next two years at Escambia, he amassed 5,342 yards and 59 touchdowns and a state championship. By his senior year, he was the top prize in many of the country's top college football programs. Another state championship followed and the University of Florida came calling.

After setting the national high school record for rushing and being named Parade Magazines National High School Player of the Year, Emmitt Smith arrived in Gainesville to play for the Florida Gators.

He rushed for 1,000 yards in his first seven games with the Gators, setting a new SEC record. This was no small feat considering NFL scouts consider the SEC as a step below the play of the NFL. He led the conference in rushing as a freshman and would do the same his junior year. All-Conference selections followed and an MVP award at the All-American Bowl. After his junior year, he declared for the NFL draft.

His career in the NFL speaks for itself. Three Super Bowl rings, league MVP, and numerous Pro Bowl appearances bring Emmitt Smith to the pinnacle of his NFL career. He is 540 yards away from Walter Payton's rushing record. Barring injury, Emmitt Smith should claim the record in the sixth or seventh week of the season.

Emmitt Smith is from a different mold. He is a man of courage, strength, and uncompromising integrity. There is strength in all of these attributes and an even greater strength in being humble while achieving greatness. Men who achieve greatness in their lives do so by an indomitable spirit to succeed no matter what obstacles are in their way.

This sums up Emmitt Smith's entire career. He has set a standard for other athletes, just as Walter Payton before him, by being humble and exhibiting great strength and courage while climbing the mountaintop to achieve NFL immortality.

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