Just a little more than 3 minutes remained in the third quarter Saturday night at Lambeau Field when Vikings safety Harrison Smith delivered a tackle on Packers running back DuJuan Harris and immediately began writhing in agony. The Vikings already trailed 24-3 in their one-sided first-round playoff loss. And the last thing they needed was to see one of their key starters lost to a serious injury.
Not to worry: Smith was only cramping.
While his pain seemed to be severe – so much so that concerned Packers players immediately began calling for the Vikings medical staff to come over – Smith just needed the cramp in his left leg to be worked out.
“I just couldn’t really feel anything going on,” Smith said.
Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman assisted with the injury on a table behind the bench. And Smith returned to action not long after, unaware initially at how much worry he had caused coaches, teammates and an already frustrated fan base.
“I watched the tape,” Smith said. “And I could see that I kind of squirmed a little bit. I didn’t know that I really did that. Our coaches were like, ‘Don’t do that anymore.’”
Smith’s emergence this season was one of the most significant bright spots for a Vikings team that improved from 3-13 to 10-6. The rookie was a playmaker all season and had two interception returns for touchdowns. On Monday, as he cleaned out his locker to head into the offseason, Smith was asked whether he ever ran into the proverbial “rookie wall.”
“I think I kind of kept thinking that I have got to get through the regular season,” Smith said. “I’ve got to make sure my body’s all right, that I can last. That was hard. And then the playoffs come around. And it’s like, ‘Wow, we have another possible however many games.’ So staying on top of your body and getting back and staying on top of your mind, mentally energizing every week is a lot harder to do than you think it would be.”
As for Smith’s thoughts on what propelled the Vikings to such a remarkable turnaround, the rookie noted the close team bond as a major catalyst.
“Every guy on this team is a guy you want to play with and guys you have fun playing with and can count on. That’s the thing that stood out to me. I mean, this is my first time around. But it seems like with the guys we have here and the leadership we have with the coaches and the front office that things are headed in the right direction.”