Remembering Past Minnesota Vikings: Robert Smith

Eric RhodyCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2009

In the 70s, Vikings fans were entertained by Chuck Foreman and his combined running/ receiving abilities, an early precursor to today's West Coast Offense.

Today, fans are used to seeing flashy runs and amazing plays from Adrian Peterson. Peterson is no doubt the finest running back the Vikings have ever had, and he will smash franchise records if he continues to play healthy.

However, he is still a few seasons away from getting the Vikings' franchise career rushing yards record. Who currently holds that record? Robert Smith.

Smith was the face of the Viking's backfield in the late 90s, and after having his finest season in 2000, retired suddenly, putting a huge hole in the Vikings' backfield that was not filled until drafting Peterson in 2007.

Smith didn't need flashy moves or jukes to get yardage. He was a power back, and his rushing ability was simple, but very effective.

Early in his career, he was labeled a "bust" after being picked 21st overall in the 1993 draft. He battled injuries and fought for starting time during his first four years on the team.

But by the time 1997 rolled around, Smith finally had a breakout season. He rushed for 1,266 yards with six TDs, by far his most productive season. He followed it up with a Pro Bowl season in the historic 1998 season, where the Vikings went 15-1 and missed the Super Bowl by a field goal.

Smith was injured for 4 games in 1999, but still managed to rush for over 1000 yards. The next season, however, Smith posted the best numbers of his career. He rushed for 1,521 yards with seven TDs, and broke Chuck Foreman's franchise record for career rushing yards.

The Vikings were smashed 41-0 in the NFC Championship that year at the hands of the Giants, but the biggest shock came when Smith announced his retirement at the peak of his career.

The loss of Smith in the backfield led to a major kink in the Vikings' once amazing offense. They failed to make the playoffs the next three seasons, and squeaked in on an 8-8 record in 2004. At the time, Michael Bennett was tagged as Smith's successor in 2001 after being drafted 27th overall.

Initially, Bennett showed promise, even being named to the Pro Bowl in 2002. But injuries and ball handling problems led to a downturn in production, fans became impatient, and he was ultimately released in 2005.

Chester Taylor showed even more promise than Bennett, and had a great 2006 season. Had it not been for the drafting of Adrian Peterson, Taylor likely would still be starting for the Vikings today.

Vikings' fans held ill will towards Robert Smith after he supposedly " abandoned" the team after his most productive season, but over time, they came to appreciate the last great running back of their franchise.

If/when Peterson breaks Smith's franchise record, this author will surely not soon forget the runner that was a major gear in the Vikings' late 90s offensive juggernaut.