Flashback: Vikings Draft Robert Smith 30 Years Ago

Nov 1, 1998; Tampa, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith (26) carries the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. FILE PHOTO; Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

It is almost time for the NFL draft. It takes place this Thursday.

While fans and journalists always think about what teams will do during the draft, they also look back at some memories from previous ones. The Minnesota Vikings have been around since 1961, so there are plenty of memories to look back on. Not all outstanding ones, but still some good ones overall.

It was 30 years ago, and they drafted running back Robert Smith 21st overall out of Ohio State University.

Flashback: Vikings Draft Robert Smith 30 Years Ago

Smith was a talented back with good speed, but unfortunately, his career was cut a bit short due to injuries. He played in eight seasons total – all with the Vikings.

During his first four seasons in the league, he appeared in only 41 games (16 starts). The next four seasons, though, he missed a total of seven games, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl. He rushed for over 1,000 in each of those final four seasons, including a career-high 1,521 in his final season. He also rushed for a career-high seven touchdowns that season.

Draft Robert
Oct 13, 1996; Tampa, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp (99) chases Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith (26) at Tampa Stadium. The Bucs defeated the Vikings 24-13. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports.

During that 2000 season, he appeared in every game for the first time in his career, so it was a shock when he decided to call it a career after that. He also was set to enter free agency and would have definitely received a nice contract, whether it would have been from the Vikings or another team.

He did, however, need knee surgery after that season, which made the decision very understandable. Running back is no doubt the most grueling position in football. He was 28 years old during his final season. Once running backs turn 30, they are considered “old.”

In 98 career games (72 starts), Smith rushed for 6,818 yards (second only to Adrian Peterson in team history) and 32 touchdowns.

Oct 3, 1993; San Francisco, CA, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith (20) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. FILE PHOTO; Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports.

One of his biggest moments in Purple came in the 1999 Wild Card round of the playoffs. He rushed for 140 yards on 28 carries and had a 26-yard touchdown reception. The Vikings won 27-10 over the Dallas Cowboys.

The former Buckeye also played a critical role in the team going 15-1 and scoring a then record 556 points in 1998, along with Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, and Cris Carter — easily one of the best teams in franchise history and just very fun to watch.

In addition to having multiple knee injuries during his career, he also had a hip injury in 1994 and an ankle injury in 1995.

Smith, in 2011 via the New-Herald, “My right knee gets sore for a while when the weather turns and my right foot is sore every once in a while, but that’s about it. I feel lucky.”

Smith certainly made the right decision to walk away early. Maybe even one more injury could have really affected him for years to come.

Use Unusual Tactic
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fans react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

He currently works for Fox Sports and Big Ten Network. How much better would he have been had he had fewer injuries? Very possibly could have been a Hall of Famer. It is unfortunate he had the number of injuries he did, but again this is a violent sport, and injuries happen.

The Vikings certainly missed Smith’s production. They missed the playoffs in six of their next seven seasons. Before drafting Peterson in 2007, they only had two 1,000-yard rushers from 2001-2006. Once again, though, he made the right decision.

While his career was a bit short, Vikings fans will never forget his play and humble personality. He will always be one of the best running backs in team history and one of the most underrated.