(NEXSTAR) — Emmitt Smith grew up in Florida, but he always envisioned making a name for himself in Texas.
“As a young child, I always wanted to play for the Dallas Cowboys,” Smith said.
That opportunity would present itself after decorated high-school (Pensacola) and college (University of Florida) careers in Florida and, when Smith got the chance, you could say he ran with it.
Smith was selected No. 17 overall by Dallas in the first round of the 1990 draft. He would eventually go on to etch his name in Cowboys’ lore, leading the franchise to three Super Bowl titles while breaking NFL legend Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record along the way.
“It was like a dream come true for me.”Emmitt Smith on being drafted by the Cowboys
During a recent 1-on-1 interview with W. Payton’s son, Nexstar’s Jarrett Payton, Smith reflected on his illustrious NFL career and said he realized he was joining a franchise with extraordinary potential the moment he arrived in Dallas.
“What made it even better was Jimmy Johnson was here, Michael Irvin, Troy (Aikman), guys that I played against in college, I was like, ‘wow, this has the chance to be something special.'”
Before joining the Cowboys in 1987, while he was a freshman at the UF, Smith bought he and his longtime best friend, Johnny Nichols, tickets to the Super Bowl. While they were watching the New York Giants take on the Denver Broncos inside the iconic Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, Smith recalled telling Nichols, ‘one of these days I want to play in the Super Bowl, and I want to play in a stadium like this.’
Fast-forward six years later to 1993, Smith found himself back in Pasadena after leading the Cowboys to Super Bowl XXVII.
“Johnny Nick is sitting there in the stands and I’m on the football field playing in my very first Super Bowl. And it happens, we win.”
That game remains the last time the Super Bowl was ever played in that stadium.
“It’s kind of hard to get over that one because of the moments of reflection,” Smith explained. “The years of preparation, years of going through high school, Pop Warner ball, college ball and now you’re here, finally at the pinnacle, and you know the world is watching …
“Yeah. That first one, there’s nothing like it.”
Smith went on to win two more Super Bowls with the Cowboys in 1994 and 1996. He capped what was already a legendary career with the Cowboys in 2002 when he surpassed W. Payton to become the all-time leading rusher in league history.
W. Payton passed away three years earlier in November 1999 after a battle with liver disease.
Smith told J. Payton that breaking his late father’s record was a ‘bittersweet’ moment.
“I had a vision of how it should happen, and that vision included Michael Irvin on the field, Troy Aikman on the field, Daryl Johnston on the field, and it included your father being there,” Smith said. “But the beautiful thing was, your family was there.”
Watch J. Payton’s full interview with Smith above.