Harrison Smith Has Become Minnesota's Lone Survivor

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

In 2023, Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson asked Harrison Smith about his contract situation. Smith responded with a picture of Minnesota icon Prince. Earlier this year, when Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune asked Smith if he was returning to the Minnesota Vikings, Smith said, “I wish I had another Prince photo to send you.” But it was only later that day that the Vikings announced Smith’s return on a restructured deal.

Smith will be entering his 13th season in purple, which will tie him for the ninth-most seasons any player has taken the field for the Vikings. If he plays all 17 games, Smith will be tied for the seventh-most games played in purple (193). He will also become the first defensive back in Minnesota history to play more than 12 seasons.

Smith has accumulated 1,153 career tackles, 19.5 sacks, 45 tackles for a loss, 12 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, 86 passes defended, and 34 interceptions throughout his Vikings tenure. That ties him for first in interceptions during this time. He is a six-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro in 2017, and a second-team All-Pro in 2018. Smith will undoubtedly enter the Vikings’ Ring of Honor one day and may make it into the Hall of Fame. He has more than justified the first-round pick the Vikings spent on him in 2012.

It takes a particular type of player to wear one uniform throughout their career. Neither starters nor backups usually stay with one team; the franchise stars remain for a long time, and even that is changing in the modern NFL when it’s usually only quarterbacks who stick around in one city for so long.

That places Harry the “Hitman” in rarefied air. He’s made himself a vital part of Vikings football by being a consistent force on defense, year in and year out. That coincided with his becoming a team leader later in his career and mentoring younger safeties Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus. That trio of safeties could potentially be Smith’s last partners at safety. He’s the longest-tenured Vikings player and has restructured his contract in the previous two offseasons to stay with the team.

Smith has had the uncanny ability to impact the game by making plays in the backfield for a tackle for loss or a sack or reeling in interceptions 40 yards down the field. Opposing teams always have to track where No. 22 is on the field. His versatility is his calling card. In an interview on The Pat McAfee Show, Aaron Rodgers said Smith is “definitely the total package. He’s the most difficult player to determine what he’s doing on any play.”

Smith’s longevity is the greatest testament to his career. He’s now playing for his third head coach in Minnesota. All the great players he played with in his prime are gone, whether the Vikings let them go for contract or performance reasons.

Neither of those factors ever impacted Smith’s tenure. When he decided to return last year, he said that being able to play for Brian Flores was a big reason. “I kind of grew up here, in a sense,” he said, “so there’s like tangible things I’ve thought about and intangible things, and they all kind of added up to I wanted to stay here and give it another crack.”

Smith has never been the talkative type. He doesn’t make eyebrow-raising comments in the media or seek the spotlight. He has kept to himself over the years but has let his personality shine through little moments here and there during his time in Minnesota.

It fits, though. Smith is not in the New York media market or playing for the Dallas Cowboys. He has played his whole career in the Midwest. He can go to work, play the game he loves, return home, and not have much of a following behind him.

The Vikings have a history of humble but dominating stalwarts. Chad Greenway and Jim Kleinsasser both come to mind. They showed up, played hard, and never wanted to be elsewhere. Smith has been able to stay through different regimes during his time here mainly because the coaches know what they are getting.

Whether this is Smith’s last go-around, he’s already cemented his status as a Vikings legend. When you think of him, you picture his angular frame, the two black gloves, punishing tackles, and speed in the backfield and to the quarterback. But above all, you think of him in purple.

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