Peyton Hillis got a special visitor at his hospital on Thursday ... Emmitt Smith stopped by -- and the visit went so well, both former NFL running backs were seen smiling ear to ear with one another.
The Dallas Cowboys legend -- who was born and raised in Pensacola, FL -- made the trek to the Escambia County medical facility to check in on Hillis ... just over two weeks after the former Browns tailback nearly drowned in an ocean rescue effort on Pensacola Beach.
Hillis appeared to be in great spirits -- flashing a grin in a photo with Smith, who called the 36-year-old in an Instagram post following the visit "a recovering hero."
Initially, things looked dire for Peyton -- who had to be life flighted to the hospital -- but his longtime girlfriend, singer and actress Angela Cole, said last week he had a big breakthrough and is now on the mend.
Hillis played in the NFL from 2008 through 2014 ... and multiple players, both past and present, have wished him a speedy recovery since the accident.