NEW YORK -- Emmitt Smith danced off with the mirror ball.
The three-time Super Bowl champion, who proved to be as nimble
on his feet in the ballroom as on the football field, was named the
winner of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Wednesday night. With
the victory came the glittering trophy.
The NFL's all-time leading rusher beat out actor Mario Lopez.
The hunky, dimpled Lopez was generally regarded as the series
most dynamic celebrity dancer, but the public's vote, the deciding
factor after the contestants had tied in the judges' tally at
Tuesday's final dance-off, brought Smith the victory.
"It is awesome! It is awesome!" declared Smith, after hugging
his professional dance partner Cheryl Burke. "We came a long way,
we really have."
Burke won last season, too, on the arm of singer Drew Lachey.
Smith had kind words for Lopez, who was gracious in his defeat.
He called the former "Saved by the Bell" star a "true
gentleman" and said he and partner Karina Smirnoff "raised the
bar" during the competition.
"This whole journey was unbelievable ... And Karina, most
unbelievable person," Lopez gushed. "It's something I'll never
Smith and Burke wowed judges on Tuesday with a spirited samba,
to the tune of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke."
"What's so great about you is you are the everyday man who
became a dancer in our eyes in the past 10 weeks," judge Carrie
Anna Inaba told Smith, who's been dubbed "The Big Easy" for his
laid-back elegance and charm.
In the closing segment of Wednesday's decision show, Burke, in a
video clip, praised Smith's work ethic.
"From the beginning, he just wanted to be the best possible
dancer he can be," she said.
Smith, ever the competitor, was determined to win, just as he
had done so many times with the Dallas Cowboys. "You don't get
into a competition unless you think you can win," he told AP Radio
after Tuesday's dance finale.
During Wednesday's program, all nine of the previously rejected
celebrities -- Vivica A. Fox, Harry Hamlin, Joey Lawrence, Sara
Evans, Willa Ford, Monique Coleman, Jerry Springer, Tucker Carlson
and former beauty queen Shanna Moakler -- returned for a last dance
with their partners.
"Dancing with the Stars" was a surprise hit when it debuted in
the summer of 2005. Now in its third edition, the show was a
ratings juggernaut week after week and, last week, the dance-off
show was No. 2 to ABC's "Desperate Housewives" with 22 million
viewers, according to Nielsen. And the results show was No. 4, with
20.7 million viewers.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issued a statement soon after the show
ended, saying how proud he was of Smith. "Although we are all
thrilled," Jones said, "we should not be surprised. ... "If
Emmitt Smith is on your team, there is a good chance you are going