When most people think of the number 26 for the Minnesota Vikings, one of two players almost certainly come to mind. They both played at the same college, and they were both among the best players at their positions to ever put on the purple and gold.
Minnesota selected Ohio State running back Robert Smith with the 21st overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. (Yeah, it’s been almost a quarter century since the Vikings drafted Robert Smith.) He wore the number 20 as a rookie, but switched to 26 in his second season. Smith had trouble staying on the field in the early portions of his career, and didn’t even top 700 yards rushing in any of his first four seasons. In 1997, however, it finally came together for him, and he ripped off four straight 1,000-yard seasons, including going for 1,521 yards in 2000. He was named to the Pro Bowl twice for his efforts.
Smith shocked the Vikings and the rest of the football world when he retired after that 2000 season at the age of 28, wishing to pursue a career in medicine and expressing a desire to avoid serious injury in the future. When he retired, he was the leading rusher in Minnesota Vikings history with 6,818 yards. He also holds the NFL record for average yards per touchdown run, as the average Robert Smith touchdown run covered 27.2 yards.
With a pass defense that had plenty of issues, the Vikings signed cornerback Antoine Winfield to a free agent contract before the start of the 2004 season. Winfield, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Buffalo Bills. Winfield, who had been known as one of the hardest hitters at the cornerback position, immediately made an impact on the Minnesota defense, and would continue to do so for nine seasons. He was one of the cornerstones of the Vikings defense during his time in purple, and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Vikings.
Winfield intercepted 21 passes in his time with Minnesota (which was more than I initially thought he had), but he wasn’t challenged a lot by opposing quarterbacks, either. His work in run support was consistently outstanding as well, as he was one of the surest tacklers in the league despite only weighing in at around 180 pounds. Winfield, like Smith, was named one of the 50 Greatest Vikings of All Time in 2010.
While the number 26 really does come down to those two players, we need to give a brief Honorable Mention to cornerback Audray McMillian. McMillian came to the Vikings from the Houston Oilers before the start of the 1989 season. He intercepted 19 passes in five years as a member of the Vikings, including eight picks in a 1992 season that saw him named a first-team All-Pro at the cornerback position.
Vikings that have worn the number 26:
- Charlie Sumner (1961 - 1962)
- Terry Kosens (1963)
- Clint Jones (1967 - 1972)
- Bob Grim (1976 - 1977)
- Marvin Cobb (1980)
- David Evans (1986 - 1987)
- Audray McMillian (1989 - 1993)
- Robert Smith (1994 - 2000)
- Ronnie Bradford (2002)
- Denard Walker (2003)
- Antoine Winfield (2004 - 2012)
- Robert Steeples (2013)
- Ahmad Dixon (2014)
- Trae Waynes (2015 - present)
That’s a look at the number 26, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll be moving on to 25 tomorrow!
Who is the greatest Viking to wear the number 26?
This poll is closed
Robert Smith (1994 - 2000)
Antoine Winfield (2004 - 2012)