What Rice and Smith have accomplished in their careers is rather astonishing if you consider how they ascended to rank at the top of their class.
Rice went to Mississippi Valley State. He posted unbelievable numbers in college from 1980-1984. Rice had great hands and breakaway speed yet because he did his damage at a Division II school so the pro scouts manufactured excuses about Rice’s ability. Surprisingly he was deemed too slow by scouts so he slipped to the No. 16 pick in the 1985 NFL draft.
Few thought Rice would turn into one of the greatest football players of all time let alone the hands-down best receiver of all-time. But in the beginning only two people knew he was special. That was the late Bill Walsh and Rice himself.
Rice worked vigorously at his craft. His rookie year he showed promise but he was dropping a lot of balls. He became frustrated but Coach Walsh assured him he’d be great. He told Rice to just keep working and everything would fall into place.
True to form Rice went to work.
Rice worked harder than any player who ever played the game. His off-season workouts started weeks after his season was over. Even though he firmly cemented his status as the games best receiver his approach to work was somebody was coming to claim his glory.
Rice felt he always had to prove people wrong from his childhood, high school, college days. Rice constantly reminded himself that he was a rookie trying to make the team even though he was a veteran. Rice would constantly stay to himself “Prove it to me Jerry! Prove it to me Jerry!”
Rice worked so hard that at age 40 as member of the Oakland Raiders he was their leading receiver and made to the Pro Bowl in 2002. Rice helped lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl where he managed to play well yet his team wasn’t a match for the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rice worked so hard that he amassed 1549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns in his 20-year career. Let’s not forget his Super Bowl Rings as well.
Then there’s Emmitt Smith. The small running back from the University of Florida that was taken in 1990 NFL Draft with the 17th pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
Smith was labeled as being too small, not fast enough and durable to make a real impact in the NFL. Even Blair Thomas was taken over Smith in the draft. This fueled Smiths’ fire to set his sights on becoming the best running back of all time.
When Smith was a rookie in training camp one evening he was asked by Hall of Fame member and former Cowboy teammate Michael Irvin what were his goals for his career. Smith stated before he went to bed that he wanted to win Super Bowls and become the all-time leading rusher in NFL history. Irvin reportedly stated, “OK rookie, go to sleep.”
Smith made good on his proclamation on becoming the all-time leading rusher in NFL history by amassing 18,355 yards along with 164 rushing touchdowns over a 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals.
When they talk about the greatest running backs of all-time Smith sometimes gets snubbed in that discussion. You hear Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson. You hear Smith played behind one of the great offensive lines in history and he benefited from the Cowboy “system.”
In my opinion Jim Brown is the best running back of all-time. I would take Walter Payton and Barry Sanders over Smith as well. My personal favorite running back is Marcus Allen.
But it really doesn’t matter what experts think. The bottom line is there isn’t any running back that’s every played in the NFL who has rushed for more yards and scored more rushing touchdowns than Smith. He also has 3 Super Bowl rings which are facts that cannot be logically disputed.
It’s great to see two players of the caliber of Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith get into the Hall of Fame together. Both overcame obstacles created by others warped perceptions. Both are currently at the top of the receiving and rushing record books. Both displayed a worth ethic few can replicate.
But more importantly Rice and Smith played with heart. They have garnered universal respect from their peers. That respect has now culminated in Rice and Smith taking their place along-side the best of the best in Canton.