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Friday, July 28, 2017

Best individual football seasons the past 25 years: No. 3, Vikings RB Robert Smith, 2000




The Vikings’ Robert Smith (Euclid) led the league in rushing in 2000, his final season in the NFL.

By Mark Podolski, The News-Herald
July 28, 2017

Player >> Robert Smith
N-H Ranking >> 3
Year >> 2000
NFL team >> Minnesota Vikings
College >> Ohio State
High school >> Euclid

Why he’s ranked >> There aren’t many NFL running backs who can say they left the game on top. Smith can. After the 2000 season, the Euclid graduate stunned the NFL when he walked away at age 28, and retired with potentially millions to be made in the free-agent market. Smith retired as an NFL rushing champion. It doesn’t get much better than that. Only the Giants’ Tiki Barber (1,662 rushing yards in 2006) and the Browns’ Jim Brown (1,544 yards in 1965) can boast of a better statistical season among running backs in their final year in the NFL.

The skinny >> The 2000 Vikings went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the New York Giants. Smith’s last game wasn’t eventful, as he rushed for 44 yards on just seven carries. The rest of his season was eventful. He gained an NFL-best 1,521 rushing yards on 295 carries (5.2-yard average) with 10 total touchdowns. With 348 receiving yards, Smith had an impressive 1,869 total yards from scrimmage in 2000. That was also the only season during his eight-year NFL career Smith played a full 16-game regular season. That season, he had eight games of at least 100 yards, including five straight in the back half of the season. His season-high games were 170 rushing yards against the Bears and 148 vs . the Cowboys.

They said it >> “I couldn’t be happier (with my health) considering what I went through for eight years. 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 told The News-Herald in 2011

“I see the world a lot different than most people. People look at you different because you were a football player. You can’t change how people think, but just because I played football, it didn’t make me any better than anyone else. I never thought of myself as a big deal.” — Smith

“Robert was coming off the rushing title, and just had a fantastic season. But I also knew football wasn’t his entire life. He would tell me he was concerned about his health, and didn’t want to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.” — Former Euclid coach Tom Banc

Where are they now? >> Smith attended Euclid High School and is widely considered one of the best ¬— if not the best ¬— high school football players to come out of Northeast Ohio. He won the Mr. Football award twice, and was a USA Today high school All-American as a senior in 1989. Smith also played for two years at Ohio State, but sat out the 1991 season amid a dispute about academics with former offensive coordinator Elliott Uzelac. He returned to the team the next season. When Smith declared for the NFL Draft, he was the Vikings’ No. 1 pick, and eventually became the franchise’s all-time leader rusher (6,818 yards) until Adrian Peterson topped that mark. His average distance on his 32 career touchdowns (27.2 yards) is an NFL record. He began working for ESPN in 2007 as a college football analyst before moving to FOX in that same role. In 2013, Smith opened up about his issues with alcohol and admitted on ESPN he was an alcoholic. Said Smith: “If you don’t deal with (alcoholism), it will take you down and take down the ones around you. It’s a living death. Absolute misery.” Smith also penned a book in 2004 titled, “The Rest of the Iceberg: An Insider’s View on the World of Sport and Celebrity.”

The News-Herald is ranking the 25 best individual football seasons ¬— high school, college or pro — for area players from the last 25 years. The list:

25 >> Mason McKenrick, LB, John Carroll, 2016
24 >> Josh Haldi, QB, Madison, 1999
23 >> Mike Gibbons, LB, Mount Union, 2005
22 >> P.J. Insana, QB, JCU 1994
21 >> Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa, 2010
20 >> Jim Smith, WR, Madison, 1999
19 >> Willie Beers, RB, John Carroll, 1992
18 >> Conner Krizancic, QB, Mentor, 2013
17 >> Mitch Hewitt, RB/LB, Chardon, 1998
16 >> London Fletcher, LB, Redskins, 2012
15 >> Ray Russ, QB, Willoughby South, 2010
14 >> Pepe Pearson, RB, Ohio State, 1996
13 >> Kevin Harper, K, Mentor 2007; Carey Spear, K, Mayfield 2009
12 >> Michael Hanhauser, RB, Perry, 2009
11 >> Tony Fisher, RB, Euclid, 1997
10 >> Mike Preston, WR, Heidelberg, 2010
9 >> Elvis Grbac, QB, Kansas City Chiefs, 2000
8 >> Sam Kukura, RB, Adam Hess, RB, Kirtland, 2013
7 >> Bart Tanski, QB, Mentor, 2007
6 >> Brian Diliberto, RB, Tiffin, 1993; Anthony Bilal, Lake Erie College, RB, 2014
5 >> Dan Whalen, QB, Case Western Reserve, 2009
4 >> Desmond Howard, kick returner, Packers, 1996
3 >> Robert Smith, RB, Vikings, 2000

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