© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2003
PENSACOLA -- The NFL's all-time rushing leader choked back tears and wiped his eyes as he thanked his hometown for recognizing him Thursday on Emmitt Smith Day in Pensacola, Escambia County and Florida.
The honors included naming a playing field after Smith at Escambia High School's L.D. McArthur Stadium, where he led the Gators to two state championships and earned national prep player of the year honors in 1987 before heading for the University of Florida.
"It's emotional for me because I've many honors across the nation, but when you come home and you're appreciated the way that Escambia has shown their appreciation to me this day, it means so much," Smith said.
He paused between words, fighting to regain his composure while students who packed Escambia High's gymnasium applauded.
"So much, especially when you hear so many things out there in the street about you that may not be true, but you have to deal with them anyway," Smith said. "When you are confident in yourself and who you are and what you stand for, and the people that you're trying to help, it makes it all worthwhile."
Smith, 33, spent the past 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys but is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Being away from Pensacola, he sometimes suffers in comparison with another local sports hero, boxing champion Roy Jones Jr., who still lives here and keeps a high profile while participating in community and charitable activities.
Some critics have complained that Smith charges for his autograph and has forgotten his roots, but he was lauded Thursday for bringing fame to his old school and hometown and for his scholarship program and Feed the Children food drives here.
He also has given Cowboys tickets to the Escambia High football team, and donated weight room equipment and state runner-up rings for players in 1999.
FALCONS: Atlanta re-signed safety Keion Carpenter, acquired offensive lineman Kevin Dogins and traded offensive tackle Michael Thompson.
Carpenter was probably the team's best defensive back last season after he left Buffalo to sign a one-year deal with the Falcons. He started all 16 regular-season games, making 73 tackles and four interceptions.
Carpenter bruised his spinal cord in a Jan. 11 playoff loss at Philadelphia, requiring surgery to fuse two cervical disks. But he is expected to make a full recovery.
Dogins is a seven-year NFL veteran who spent the past two seasons with Chicago. Thompson was dealt to the Seahawks for an undisclosed 2004 draft choice.
The Falcons also signed kicker John Markham.