By all accounts, Saturday night’s Hall of Fame induction speech from all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith represented the most memorable arrival in Canton since former teammate Michael Irvin’s remarks. And for good reason; we’ve heard that Emmitt hired the same guy Irvin retained to write his own speech, and there’s chatter that Emmitt devoted upwards of 100 hours to rehearsing for his final moment in the NFL spotlight.
In hindsight, Emmitt’s speech was a very good one. Sure, he had a moment or two when he nearly fell off the horse, for example by acknowledging “the late Mark Tuinei, who obviously couldn’t be here.”
But Emmitt’s speech has drawn scrutiny more for something he didn’t say. As our pal Brooks of SportsByBrooks points out, Emmitt gave a big “FU” to UF.
The snub, which came with Florida coach Urban Meyer in attendance at the enshrinement ceremony, has sparked multiple theories as to the cause. One school of thought focuses on a still-strained relationship with former Gators coach Steve Spurrier, who as legend has it didn’t beg Emmitt to stay when Emmitt decided to give up his final year of eligibility and jump to the NFL. Another theory, presented by Ethan Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who was in the Akron-Canton area to cover Stage One of the “LeBron Tour De Image Rehab” traces the tension to current Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley.
Brooks comes down on the Spurrier side of the debate, pointing out that Emmitt didn’t show up for the 2006 Ring of Honor ceremony at the Swamp because Spurrier was due to be inducted at the same time Emmitt’s name was added to the list of all-time Florida greats.
Regardless of the reason, Emmitt’s extensive prep means that the failure to talk about his college football experience was no “blowed out”-style slip of the tongue. Emmitt meant to ignore the Gators, and Emmitt did indeed ignore the Gators.
UPDATE: A source with knowledge of the situation tells us that Emmitt was pressed by the powers-that-be to trim some time from a speech that was poised to kiss 30 minutes, and that Smith simply forgot to mention Florida as he tried — without notes — to deliver his prepared remarks.