This last week, all the eyes in the world were on Emmitt Smith. If you didn't catch the episode of Homecoming or the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony then either YouTube it or break into your neighbor's house* and watch it on their DVR, odds are one of your neighbors has recorded them both. If you watched (or after you do) you learned something. You learned that a big guy can be emotional. You learned that Pensacola, FL was an awesome place to grow up. You learned that Dwight Thomas was a great football coach, and you learned that Emmitt Smith came from an amazing family with a Mother and Father who loved him immensely and raised him to be a fine young man first and that being a football player was way down on the list of priorities (after chores and homework).
But see, I already knew all of that. Anyone who went to Escambia High School did. Anyone who watched Emmitt grow from a boy to a man in what we called the "Gator Bowl," with the band playing "When You're Hot You're Hot" every time he crossed the goal line, already learned more from Emmitt and the rest of the Smith family than you could ever learn watching two TV programs.
From his mother, we learned to show up. She was there for almost every football game, from the days when her boys were playing for Steve Vick at the Salvation Army until each of them retired their helmet for good. I can't imagine the frequent flyer miles she racked up being there for every little event. Yes ma'am, Mary Smith was there for her kids and from her we learned that the most important thing you can do as a mother is to be there for everything.
From his father, we learned to sacrifice, work hard and put our family first. He gave up a career in football to take care of his mom. He still works as a bus driver in Pensacola and should retire this year. He played semipro football at age 40, when his boys were playing ball at EHS.
From his brothers and sisters, we learned to rise out of the shadow cast by a successful sibling and be our own person.
Emmitt learned all of those things too. He rose from the shadows of the Pensacola projects, he sacrificed and worked hard, and what I remember most about Emmitt, besides his ability to carry guys twice his size into the end-zone, is that he showed up. When a 7 year old little boy crawled up into his lap at the Pizza Hut in Warrington after a Friday night football game and asked Emmitt if he would teach him to run the football when he started playing the following fall (Emmitt's Senior year), he said he would and a year later he showed up. When the trainer from the EHS football team was in a hospital in Gainesville while Emmitt was playing for UF, all he wanted was for Emmitt to come see him and Emmitt showed up. That little boy was my brother, and the trainer for the EHS football team was my cousin. When he was a Senior, and close to breaking some record (I don't know which one, there were so many and I was in the 7th grade, so my memory is fuzzy), I remember him sitting out while his brother, Erik, ran the ball. Emmitt Smith put his family first, even when he was a kid.
I met Emmitt a few times at Pizza Hut after football games and once when he was sitting in the stands at EHS watching Emory play. I might have had had three conversations with Erik in high school although he was a good friend to my cousin. Emory was in my class but I only remember one encounter with him, at an EHS football game against Pine Forest High School when we were in Middle School (I was cold and he put Emmitt's letter jacket, which swallowed me, over my shoulders. It barely fit him and he was in the EIGHTH GRADE). I am sure that none of them could recall those encounters or the little bitty blonde girl with big hair that started cheering them on when she was in Elementary School, but as a proud Pensacola native, I will never forget what the Smith family taught us all.
They taught us to live greatly, to attempt great things and expect great results. They taught us to take every opportunity that life has to offer and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. They taught us to sacrifice for family and to work hard. We learned to show up, and be there for every event in our kids' lives no matter how small because small things add up to greatness. Personally, I aim to follow their example and to live in such a way, that at the end of my life God will look down on the city where I grew up and He will say, "That's Pensacola, hometown and birthplace of Ginny Starkie Heisler...and Emmitt Smith."
*I, Ginny Heisler, wish to state publicly and for the record that I do not recommend breaking into your neighbor's house for any reason, even to watch the best Hall of Fame Speech EVER!