NEIL CORNRICH & NC SPORTS: MANAGING THE CAREERS OF PROFESSIONALS IN THE SPORTS INDUSTRY

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Friday, August 15, 2008

"Breathtaking" Smith made Vikings offense work



IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

AUGUST 7, 2008

BY STEVE ULFELDER

Even if you're a reasonably acute football fan you may not remember Robert Smith, and not just because he has a name usually found in sleazy motels' guest registers.

Smith was a breathtaking running back for my beloved Minnesota Vikings from 1993 to 2000. While the Vikings' passing game grabbed the headlines during that era (especially once Randy Moss came to town), true fans knew it was Smith who made the bombs-away offense work, because he virtually forced opposing defenses to devote their strong safety to run-stopping - which made it easy for the Vikes' wide receivers do their thing. When frustrated defenses did slip that extra man back into pass coverage, Smith made them look silly with a loping, stand-up style that didn't look especially fast - until he was 15 yards beyond the nearest defensive back.

Smith's career was plagued by injuries that led to what was either a heroic deed or common sense that looks like heroism by comparison. He had his best season in 2000, rushing for an NFC-leading 1,521 yards. Moreover, his contract was up for renewal. At age 28, he was looking at el Payday Grande, the big career-capping contract that would be front-loaded with a non-refundable bonus ...

... and instead, he up and retired. One of his knees needed cleaning up, which was practically an off-season ritual, and he decided that with money in the bank and interests to pursue, he would leave the game and walk normally the rest of his life, rather than play another four years and limp.

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