Robert Smith: A Vikings Great

April 7, 2022

Even though it may have seemed like a short stint with the Minnesota Vikings, Robert Smith was able to leave behind a great legacy. He only started four full seasons for the Vikings, despite being on the team for eight. But the four seasons that he did start made a big impact on the team and on the history of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Ohio State University

If you didn’t know, Robert Smith went to college at Ohio State University. His collegiate career in football is a bit different than most. In 1990, Smith ran for 1,126 yards and eight touchdowns. He then decided in 1991 that he would opt out of playing football and Smith ran track. During this time Smith did consider transferring to USC or Stanford to play football but ultimately decided not to. So in 1992, Smith returned to the Ohio State football team. That season Smith ran for 819 yards and ten touchdowns, leading him into the 1993 NFL Draft.

The Early Years With The Vikings

As mentioned earlier, Smith didn’t really start making a huge impact to the team halfway through his NFL career. He was drafted by the Vikings’ 21st overall in the 1993 draft. From his rookie season in ’93 until 1996, Smith fell to injuries more of than not. This ultimately limited and affected his impact on the team. This was especially true in the 1995 and 1996 seasons. Smith did start seven games in each season, but the injuries took over and ultimately landed him on the bench. While the early years were tough, it would be the 1997 season where Smith decided to break out.

In His Prime

1997 was the beginning of a solid four-year run of dominance for Smith. To start off the season, Smith buried the Buffalo Bills with 169 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries. That season Smith would go on to record six games of over 100 yards rushing. Not only that, but five of the six had him rushing for 120 yards or more. He was the perfect running back to balance out the Vikings’ air attack. I can remember watching him on Sundays, with those oversized elbow pads making people miss. Sometimes he would just run over them too. Smith had a way to forge all of his energy and power into one motion to break free, and it worked. 1997 ended up being his second-best season statistically speaking. He ran for 1,266 yards and six touchdowns.

The 1998 season didn’t slow him down too much. Smith ran for over 1,100 yards and added another six touchdowns to his stat line. Pretty impressive numbers for a team that in that year was so heavily known for the deep ball, that his numbers get lost sometimes. As mentioned, Smith had four great seasons, eclipsing 1,000 yards in 1999 and 2000. But, 2000 ended up being the best season of his career. Smith rushed for 1,521 and seven touchdowns. Then, just when the Vikings thought they had their running back for the next few seasons Smith decided to retire. There are only a few running backs that I have seen in my lifetime retire at the top of their game, and Smith is one of them.

After The NFL

After Smith retired in 2000, he thought he would pursue a medical career. Shortly after that Smith got back into sports, but this time he wasn’t on the field. Smith signed a deal with ESPN and was seen on multiple college football programs for many years. Eventually, Smith would leave ESPN for FOX Sports. He is currently still with FOX Sports and does also appear on the Big Ten Network, which makes sense considering his alma mater. He now resides in Texas, working in the booth, still being involved with the sport he loves. Smith also founded and is still running “The Robert Smith Foundation.” A foundation that provides financial and moral support to children’s hospitals and their cancer research.

The Legacy Left Behind

In my mind, Smith is easily a top three all-time Vikings running back. I loved watching him play, and was really the first running back I remember seeing play live. Like I’ve mentioned before, maybe it’s because I remember the ’90s, and maybe it is pure nostalgia overload. But I do have some numbers to back my thinking. Smith as of today sits number two on the Vikings’ all-time rushing leaderboard. Obviously, he sits behind Adrian Peterson. But if Peterson wouldn’t have been a Viking, Smith would be number one. He made two Pro Bowls in his time with the Vikings. Smith also left the NFL with a record that he still holds to this day. He still has the NFL record for average yards per touchdown run with 27.2 yards per score. With today’s runners in the NFL, it’s kind of hard to believe, but it’s true.

Whether you remember him or not, or have never seen highlights, I suggest you do so. Especially if you’re in the younger generation of Vikings fans. The only running backs the younger people know are Dalvin Cook and Adrian Peterson. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. But if you want to look into some Vikings history I suggest you give Robert Smith some of your time, you’ll enjoy it.