A cha-cha champion who wasn't half-bad at carrying the ball

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


AP Sports Columnist

Finding out Emmitt Smith can dance the samba is not unlike finding out Fred Astaire could have done a respectable turn at cornerback in "Cover Two."
I mean, who knew?
These days, there are no shortage of wannabe dancers in the NFL. Guys fresh off the practice squad catch a break, wind up in the end zone and next thing you know, they're auditioning for the Rockettes. Smith, on the other hand, scored 165 touchdowns in 15 pro seasons, the second-best total in NFL history, and did exactly zero dances afterward.
Turns out he was just saving himself for when it mattered.
"You don't get into a competition," Smith said, "unless you think you can win."
Smith and his pro partner, Cheryl Burke, made it official with Wednesday night's announcement that the voting public broke a tie among deadlocked judges on "Dancing with the Stars" and awarded the couple the mirrored ball.
Smith, so used to praising the Cowboys offensive lineman who opened holes in defenses ahead of him season after season, couldn't say enough about his partner. Smart move, and a deserving one, too, since Burke also maneuvered Drew Lachey into the winner's circle when they were partnered last year.
But the last thing Smith should do is sell himself short. The celebrity half of the couple he beat, former "Saved by the Bell" star Mario Lopez, grumbled afterward, "Apparently, world-class dancing wasn't enough," implying that Smith's popularity - and not his turn of foot - is what decided the competition.
But as they say in the dance world: au contraire.
"Actually, I thought America would be swayed to vote for 'dimple boy,'" dance expert Pierre Dulaine said in a telephone interview from New York, where the American Ballroom Theater Company founder was conducting classes for public-school students.
"I believe Mario was better from a technical aspect, and very, very determined. But Emmitt has nothing to apologize for. From the very start of the competition, I could see Emmitt was a natural mover and he had that infectious smile, always.
"And," Dulaine added, "he had already learned something I'm always trying to teach my kids. He shook what his momma gave him very well."
I didn't want to burst Dulaine's bubble and tell him dozens of NFL defenders said exactly the same thing about Smith, even if they didn't use the exact same terms.
Of course, plenty of those same defenders said much the same thing about 49ers great Jerry Rice, too, who just happens to be the league's all-time touchdown scorer and lost in the finals of ABC's surprise hit show last season. Given that tidbit, can Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk, Nos. 3 and 4 on the TD list, be far behind? Are we looking at the start of a trend here?
"I don't think you'll see me any time soon on 'Dancing on the Stars,'" current Cowboy receiver Terrell Owens said. "But you may see me dancing on the star."
Not so fast, T.O. For most guys, life after the NFL means sitting behind a desk in some marketing operation, struggling to stay awake. So how about you, Drew Bledsoe? Is the fandango in your future?
"Either that," the Dallas quarterback said, "or I'm going to the moon. They're just about as likely. I don't see that in the cards."
Neither, frankly, do any of their teammates - at least not yet. Akin Ayodele, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker who's as tough as they come, already does some modeling on the side and was asked about being "The Bachelor" on the show of the same name. He draws the line at dancing.
"I get grief just for taking pictures," Ayodele said, "let's not talk about if I was to dance."
But the simple fact is that it's easier to talk about now that Smith did it. In the last few weeks, dozens of Texans have dropped into sports bar and plunked themselves down in front of the wide-screen TVs to hoot and holler at ... yes ... "Dancing."
Just last week, the manager at IDance3 studio in Plano, Texas, where Smith and Burke often honed their dancing skills, told The Dallas Morning News that business was improving:
"As one male customer told me just the other day: 'Emmitt makes dancing look manly.' "
If that comes as a surprise to most of us, it did not to Dulaine and plenty of others in the dance community.
"American football players are - how should I say this nicely? - fuller in their weight, but no one should be surprised they are light on their feet," Dulaine said.
"When you have to move quite fast and make a stutter-step so somebody in front of you does not take your head away, well, learning to dance after that is not quite as difficult."