Four More Weeks And Jack Has Company

Jack Youngblood is the only Florida Gator in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…. But that will change early next month. The 2010 enshrine will welcome another Gator when Emmitt Smith is selected for induction into The Hall in Canton Ohio.

Oh, it's technically not official, but there's no way on earth Smith does not get the required 75 percent of the votes when the selection committee makes its announcement on February 6. Smith and former San Francisco great Jerry Rice are the automatic selections among this year's finalists that were announced on Friday.

Smith had a phenomenal NFL career and remains the league's all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards. He was the first player in NFL history to have 11 straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons and his 164 rushing touchdowns is also an NFL mark. Smith was his best against the best, gaining 1,586 rushing yard sin post-season games including seven 100-yard games. Yes, both are NFL records, too.

His legacy was probably forever cemented when he helped Dallas win a crucial game against the New York Giants while playing with a separated shoulder. In 1993 he had perhaps his greatest season, winning the NFL rushing title and earning league MVP and Super Bowl MVP honors as well.

Not bad for a guy who was too small and too slow entering the pro game. In fact it was that lack of speed that convinced the New York Jets to take Penn State's Blair Thomas with the second pick in the draft. (And you wonder why the Jets haven't won the Super Bowl in 40 years?) Dallas grabbed Emmitt with the 17th pick of the 1990 player selection process and the rest as they say is history.

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Of course Emmitt was also too small and too slow to excel at the college level, or so he was told. Despite rushing for more than 8,000 yards and 100 touchdowns at Pensacola Escambia one of the nation's top recruiting analysts insisted Smith was a "lugger" and not a future star. Florida, Auburn and Nebraska among others strongly disagreed and battled for his signature in the recruiting battle that many (including me) believe was the turning point in changing the cottage industry of recruiting reporting into the multi-million dollar business it remains to this day.

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Despite crippling NCAA sanctions the Gator football team did not have a losing season in the late-80s and the biggest single reason for that was the presence of Emmitt Smith. He set a school record rushing for 1,341 yards his freshman year despite not starting until week three. He added 988 as a sophomore despite missing some action with a sprained knee and had a phenomenal junior season in 1988 rushing for 1,599 yards and 14 touchdowns including a school record 316 against New Mexico.

Smith and his family resented the fact that the new Gator coach Steve Spurrier didn't recruit him to return for his senior season, but Spurrier spent the next 12 years staying out of those decisions for all of his players. But I for one have always wondered what kind of number he could have put up in that offense with the improved talent around him.

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Once Smith goes into Canton is may be a long time before another Gator reaches immortality by earning enshrinement to the Hall. Lomas Brown and Wilber Marshall certainly had impressive enough career to warrant consideration, but there's been little indication either is getting much discussion. If fullbacks got more recognition John L Williams might be in play, but I don't see that happening either. Unless Fred Taylor has two more big seasons (and maybe more) it may well be more than a decade before another Gator joins Youngblood on the ultimate list of former NFL greats.


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