Robert Returns

When Robert Smith abruptly retired from the NFL after the 2000 season, television networks immediately expressed interest in adding him to their football coverage.

The former Vikings running back wasn't interested.

"A lot of people approached me," said Smith, known as much for his cerebral nature as his ability to run the football. "But I looked at it as if I'd be selling out. I just wanted to clear my head."

Four years later, the articulate Smith is ready to give TV a shot. Smith signed a one-year contract this week with ESPN that contains an option for another year, which can be exercised by the network. Smith's initial focus will be college football. He will be on ESPNEWS tonight and Saturday and also could contribute to "College GameDay" from the network's studios in Bristol, Conn.

Smith, who will commute to Bristol each week from his Florida home, also will be heard on ESPN Radio and do a column for the sports empire's website.

This might come as a surprise to those who thought Smith had severed all ties to football when he walked away from the game after breaking the Vikings' franchise rushing record by running for 1,521 yards in 2000. Smith gave no reason for his decision at the time, electing instead to all but disappear.

But as Smith, 33, got farther away from the sport, he realized there were things he missed that he hadn't even considered.

"I'd been pretty busy, but I hadn't found something that was a clear point of focus," Smith said. "That's what this is. It's something you miss when you leave the game because you need structure in your life. I knew I would miss the game and the things like the camaraderie and competition. But I really missed the structure. ... It's something that drives you. Even if you complain about it, deep down it's something you really need."

Smith began considering media work after making numerous promotional appearances last year for his book, "The Rest of the Iceberg: An Insider's View on the World of Sport and Celebrity."

"It opened my mind to the power of the media," said Smith, who has been serving as an NFL analyst for the Score television network in Canada.

Smith's representatives contacted ESPN, and he did an audition last week. While he is excited about the opportunity, Smith makes it clear he sees this as only the beginning.

"There is no limit to what you can do in this field," he said. "The ability to reach people is an incredible position to have. I don't think sports have to be the end of it. I'd like to move into regular news and maybe eventually have a show."


Robert's book is available from Inkwater Books



From The Pioneer Press Dispatch: 


Robert will sign copies of his autobiography at the Vikings training camp in Mankato in August. The book includes his upbringing in Ohio, his career at Ohio State, his eight seasons with the Vikings and views on sports and celebrity in America.


Check out the new Robert Smith Foundation website. You can also find out how to contribute to the Foundation.




The Star Tribune's editorial about Robert's retirement is right on the money:

The Vikings have had talented runners over the years (Bill Brown, Dave Osborn, Ted Brown, Chuck Foreman), but No. 26 was the best ever to wear purple. Not only are his statistics tops in team history (6,818 yards, 32 touchdowns), but his style was as close to beautiful as football gets -- long, powerful strides, deceptive moves and breakaway speed. There was nothing quite like seeing Smith break into the secondary, juke a linebacker, evade a cornerback and outrun two safeties into the end zone. Then, instead of performing one of those in-your-face displays, he'd simply flip the ball to the ref and head for the sidelines with that boyish grin on his face. Fans got the impression that Smith saw football as a delight, not a macho crusade for self-worth.


The last reporter to interview Robert before his retirement talks about it.


Don Banks writes about Robert's possible reasons for retiring and looks at his career.


Len Pasquarelli says that Robert's best days are probably still ahead of him.



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Robert autographed this copy of Vikings Insider for me

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Last modified: September 30, 2005