But a lot has changed since then, both in the world of the NFL and in Smith's life. The Cowboys aren't dominant, they don't have a lot of consistency on offense, and Smith is now 43 years old and dealing with a painful arthritic condition called gout.
He's passionate about trying to spread the word on gout, which is why we connected on Thursday to discuss life, football and his health.
Bleacher Report: You said recently that you don't think Tony Romo is the problem in Dallas and that the offensive line has held him back. I'm guessing you feel the Cowboys should be focusing on offensive linemen at the combine?
Emmitt Smith: I think if the Cowboys want to establish balance, they need offensively to become a very good football team. They definitely need to beef up their offensive line. They need to give the guys that have the talent behind them—whether it's DeMarco Murray or Felix Jones or even Tony Romo—a chance to become the best running backs and quarterbacks that they can possibly become.
When I look at Tony Romo the last couple years, I think he's matured as a quarterback [but] he's also matured as an overall person. And knowing that, I think he has a lot to offer still. But when you don't have the protection that you need...you cannot get comfortable in the pocket.
And everyone knows in the National Football League, the more pressure you put on the quarterback, the more erratic he is. And I think that's what we've seen from Tony Romo.
Not to mention, you don't have a running game to support you.
B/R: That's an important point. DeMarco Murray has to stay healthy next year.
ES: Yes. He has to stay healthy and if he's not healthy the backup has got to perform. If the backs aren't performing, that makes it very tough for Tony Romo and that offense.
B/R: How does the combine as it is now compare to how it was two decades ago when you went through that process?
ES: I think there's a lot more visibility on the NFL combine. I think there's more exposure there. I think the tests have improved over the years. I think the quality of the evaluations has been upgraded tremendously.
One thing I've also learned is this: Just because I can perform at a high level in drills and tests doesn't mean that they translate to a great football player. And at the end of the day you have to go look at the tape, and I think the tape itself solidifies what type of football player you get. But this other information tells you a lot about what's between the guy's ears.
B/R: Would a poor 40 time hurt you more now than it did then?
ES: At the end of the day a poor 40 time is looked at as, "He cannot make it." And I think that's where a lot of teams go wrong, because if you look at a guy like Anquan Boldin, he doesn't run a blistering 40 time. Larry Fitzgerald didn't run a blistering 40 time.
So at some point you've gotta look at the stats and say, "Here are stats. Let's go to the tape." And the tape shows something different. The tape shows Anquan Boldin is a complete football player.
B/R: I spent some time with Moose Johnston at the Super Bowl and he mentioned that you guys keep in touch quite well.
ES: I think since that time we all have been focused on our post-football careers. And we all have families, and our families are leading us in different directions. I've got five kids, so therefore I'm at four or five different events, and it makes it very tough to be that social with your former teammates.
But we do make some time. It's not as often as we would like for it to be. We have dinner and sit down and have a social conversation.
B/R: Did you read Jeff Pearlman's Boys Will Be Boys? No surprise here but Moose told me he wasn't a big fan.
ES: I heard about it. I'm not a big fan of it either, because I don't like when people don't want to disclose their sources. Because when you don't disclose your source, that means you could be making stuff up.
B/R: DeMarcus Ware told me he'd consider doing Dancing With the Stars. Any advice for him?
ES: The only thing I would tell DeMarcus Ware is this: Do it after your football career is over so you can concentrate and focus on it.
Not only that, but it's not as easy as you may think. It is definitely time consuming. And if you want to do it after your career, start preparing right now. Go out and buy lessons and start training right now. Do it socially. Get better socially so when the show comes on you're familiar with what's going on and you can continue to get better from that point.
B/R: You're a legend in the state of Texas and you still live there. Have you received backlash as someone who is in favor of gun law reform?
ES: I haven't received any backlash. Anybody in their right mind knows that their should be some kind of gun law reform. What type of gun law reform? There are some basic fundamentals there that we all should [be able to] agree upon.
Nobody's trying to take guns out of everybody's hands but there are some fundamentals there that can be looked at that can change the way people have access to guns and what type of guns they have access to.
Let's be realistic here. Taking guns out of everybody's hands is unrealistic, but creating laws to prevent some of the people that don't necessarily need to have guns in their hands, that can happen.
B/R: You're working with Takeda Pharmaceuticals in trying to spread word on your battle with gout, which is a painful form of arthritis. How long have you been dealing with this?
ES: I have suffered with gout for the last two years, and my first encounter was not a pleasant encounter. ... My big toe flared up on me and I was not able to walk normal. I was not able to sit down and rub my foot. I couldn't wear a shoe. And in fact I was in so much pain I had to...get my foot looked at. And that's when I realized I had the condition.
What I've done with Takeda Pharmaceuticals is to help bring more awareness to the over eight million people who suffer with the same kind of condition. And I want them to know that they're not in it by themselves. I'm one of the eight million. And so the best advice I can give to anyone that may have this condition is to visit your doctor.
B/R: Your body held up quite well in your playing days. You stayed amazingly healthy. Do you think that would be the case if you played now?
ES: I cannot answer that question because I cannot put myself in today's system. All I know is what I was able to do in the 15 years that I played in the National Football League. And through that experience I was able to stay healthy. That much I am very proud of.
B/R: What if you were running behind the current Cowboys' offensive line?
ES: It's never easy running behind an offensive line that's not as good as they're capable of being. But it's something that we all have experienced.
Because in my latter years with the Dallas Cowboys, my offensive line was nowhere near the caliber of the offensive line that I ran behind in 1991, 1992, 1993 or even 1994 or 1995. And so we all must make that adjustment. I cannot always be perfect but we gotta make the best of the situation that we currently have.
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