Life After Football for Emmitt Smith

People are now getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what Emmitt Smith is thinking in his second life -- and of the master plan behind it.

On Nov. 15, after 10 weeks of competition, Smith, 37, and his partner, Cheryl Burke, 22, were announced as the winners of a show that has become a cultural phenomenon -- "Dancing With the Stars."

But why was a man who made history as the all-time leading rusher in the National Football League, and who earned multimillion-dollar paychecks in his career, taking on a challenge that could have changed his image as a sports icon?

Burke is a professional dancer who trained Smith in ballroom dancing. She recalled one of his few conditions: no Spandex dance tights.

"So, we never put him in the Spandex," she said, "but he did get used to those high-heeled shoes."

As for equipment that was similar to what he'd worn as a football player: "kneepads," Smith said.

"When I'm doing a dance where I have to get onto the floor, I have to have some kneepads on -- because that floor does not feel comfortable at all."

'A Business Decision'

His wife, Pat Smith, a former Miss Virginia, was skeptical at first of his decision to appear on the show.

"I said, 'Is this kind of like your need to be back in the public again?' And he laughed at me. And he said, 'Absolutely not.' It was totally a business decision from the beginning," she said.

What Smith described to his wife, Pat, was the nucleus of a plan that went far beyond the competition and was in his mind long before the dancing began.

It was also in keeping with how he had set goals throughout his life.

Before he played his first game as a rookie in the NFL, he wrote on paper one of his primary ambitions: to break the all-time NFL rushing record. And he did.

Playing 12 years with the Dallas Cowboys and two with the Arizona Cardinals, Smith rushed for more than 18,000 yards.

His teams won three Super Bowls, and Smith was the Most Valuable Player in one of them and the league MVP in 1993.

Smith's Second Life

When Smith retired early in 2005, he began to plan his second life.

He knew that among people who weren't fans, football stars -- especially outside of the markets where they play -- were often more shielded from public recognition than other athletes.

"He was in a helmet the majority of the time," Pat Smith said. "So there were a lot of people out there that don't follow sports, that really, they don't know Emmitt Smith."

"Unlike basketball and other sports where you're able to see the faces clearer," Smith said. "That's the challenge that most football players have to overcome."

And Smith didn't intend for his public life to end after football.

"I went and studied and -- learned about the real estate development business," he said.

He is now the "Smith" in a joint venture called Smith-Cypress Partners, which includes former Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach.

His first commercial project with Smith-Cypress is a proposed retail center in Phoenix.

For his new career, "Dancing With the Stars" gave him priceless exposure of both his face and personality.

People discovered him as a family man and proud father of four, and as someone who could encourage other men to follow in his footsteps just by the expression on his face.

"With Emmitt, it's authentic," Burke said. "He's not just putting on a face. He's having fun. He's smiling. His smile's worth a million dollars."

Dancing judge Carrie Ann Inaba told Smith, "I think every man watches you, and they're like, 'Yeah, that's the way I wanna dance!'"

A Different Audience

Pat Smith noticed immediate changes in public response to Smith.

"I mean, literally, I've gotten knocked over, almost, by guys trying to get to my husband. And now, to see women responding to him the same way -- it just blows my mind."

An E-Poll Market Research survey quantified the results.

A poll showed that Smith's public "total awareness" numbers had increased 25 percent. His "name awareness" was up 20 percent. His "face awareness" increased 40 percent.

The poll also showed increases for Smith in qualities such as "approachable," "articulate," "classy," "handsome," "intriguing," "versatile" and "warm."

"Strategically," said Smith, going on the show "was the right move. It helped me transition from the game and gain a whole, totally different audience."

What that translates into is a substantially more valuable brand name and better access in business.

"Now that I'm in business, this is a great branding opportunity for Emmitt Smith, the brand, and how I can take the brand and transfer that equity over into my business."

Smith first began to make lists of his goals as he grew up in the projects of Pensacola, Fla. His father was a city bus driver. His mother worked at a nursing home.

When he wanted a pair of designer jeans and went to his mother for the money, he said, "She said, 'I can't afford those. But if you go get you a job, then you can buy whatever you want to buy.' And so I got a job at the nursing home that she was working at. And I cut the grass. I mopped the floors. I helped the elderly move around. I changed bed linens and trimmed the hedges."

The lesson was clear, Smith said.

"From that point on, I started creating ways to go out and earn a living. And I learned that hard work and commitment and dedication definitely pays off. But I also learned, when I made the money and my mother asked to borrow some -- I felt good giving it away. And that, to me, was an unbelievable feeling."

What put Smith over the top on "Dancing With the Stars" was his ability -- literally and figuratively -- to break through the image he had as a tough and stoic running back and to waltz, from one phase of life into the next, multiplying the value of his name as he did it.

Running backs have to have a low center of gravity. Waltzers defy it.

"Football was great," Smith said. "Business is even better. Always, through my whole life, I've had a thirst for knowledge. Football was one vehicle to take me to one end of the road, but I'm tryin' to make it to the other end."