When the 'Dance' Is Over

That's show biz.

On Wednesday night, Emmitt Smith and Mario Lopez, the two finalists in "Dancing With the Stars," performed in front of an estimated 30 million fans. Smith took home the honors and the mirrored Disco Ball trophy.

Little more than 12 hours later, on Thursday morning, Smith and Lopez appeared before a much smaller audience -- a group of about two dozen awed children who screamed with excitement when the two men arrived at Ronald McDonald House on Manhattan's East Side, a journey of thousands of miles, physically and emotionally.

The children live at Ronald McDonald house because they're in New York undergoing treatment for serious illnesses. The men made the extraordinary effort to see them because they knew being in the presence of the kids would help plant their feet on the ground after months spent worrying about dance steps.

"Seeing their faces light up and being part of something like this is an honor," Lopez said.

"This is really all life is about at the end of the day," added Smith, the father of two young daughters. "Instead of dancing we are bringing some of that energy to these kids and try to inspire them and let them know everything's going to be OK."

No Time to Catch Their Breath

The two men have had a whirlwind week -- the show's live final competition was on Tuesday night, followed by the results show Wednesday night. Immediately afterward, they briefly dropped by "The Jimmy Kimmel Show" and hopped a red eye flight to New York, where they appeared together with their dancing partners on "Good Morning America."

After GMA, there was a press conference, and they were then whisked away to the Ronald McDonald House, where they visited with the children and their parents.

The pair sat with the children on their laps, posed for photographs, autographed pictures and helped color inside the lines in a giant coloring book -- with the children's help, of course.

"We're coloring not dancing!" enthused 4-year-old Hailey Messmer, who almost missed the visitors because of a doctor's appointment. She will be staying at the Ronald McDonald House for the next year while being treated for ITP, a chronic platelet disorder so rare that just 40 other children are being treated for it in the entire country.

"We thought we were going to miss this and she's loving it," said her grateful father, Andre Messmer. "You just see it in their face. It brings joy to them all."

Smith and Lopez seemed at ease with each other despite their heated competition on the dance floor. How does it feel for Lopez to be spending the day in close contact with the man who beat him out for the top prize? "We're not running for office or anything," Lopez relied. "It's just a TV show and it's fun. No shame in losing to Emmitt Smith. He's a football hero and a legend."

Taking a Risk

Lopez admits he declined the first time the show offered him a slot but eventually succumbed to pressure from his mother. "I was thinking, I'm not going to be dancing around and wearing those frou-frou outfits," said Lopez, whose other credits include the classic '80s teen sitcom "Saved by the Bell" and a stint co-hosting a male-oriented "View" rip-off called "The Other Half" in 2003.

Smith also admits he was initially wary of joining the show. "I was hesitant because I've been in the real estate business for a year and a half, and I was just starting to get some stuff built in to my pipeline," he said. "But now this is going to be a great conversational piece" with future clients, he figures (as if his storied football career wasn't enough to discuss).

He says the whole competition came naturally to him because it was reminiscent of an area where he'd excelled in the past. "Dancing is very similar to football: the commitment, the drive, the focus," he said.

The entire "Dancing" experience began over the summer, when the men started practicing with their partners, and extended through the 10 weeks of the show. Will the two finalists continue to make dancing a part of their lives?

"The only dancing I'm going to be doing is in the clubs, kicking back," Lopez said.

And for Smith? He was diplomatic: "I'm going to try to make dancing as much a part of my life as my wife wants to make it. It's up to her."