He returned to the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium last Saturday in the Vikings’ preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Despite proving he could come back from the operation, Smith’s decision came down to a matter of his long-term health and well-being, which he detailed in a personal post on his Instagram.
Fans, teammates and NFL stars alike offered an outpouring of support for Smith as he begins the next step in his life.
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‘Countless Friendships, Incredible Memories, and Invaluable Lessons That Will Last a Lifetime’
Smith, a 2019 fifth-round pick out of USC, played five games as a rookie in Minnesota before he discovered he had an enlarged bicuspid aortic valve in his heart, a rare congenital disability, last offseason.
His farewell to football struck a nerve across the NFL community. Here’s his message:
For the past 18 years, football has been such a tremendous part of my life. It has provided countless friendships, incredible memories, and invaluable lessons that will last a lifetime. When I had open-heart surgery last year, I grappled a lot with what I had been asking my body to do in order to play this great game. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I’ve been asking for it to do too much.
After careful consideration and thorough discussion with my friends and family, I have made the difficult decision to retire from the NFL. I know this transition isn’t going to be easy, but I am excited to tackle this next chapter of my life with the same passion and pursuit that I did football. I am grateful for, and will forever cherish, the many opportunities that I have been given to me through football.
I truly appreciate the support from all my friends, family, the entire Vikings organization, USC, Athletes First and everyone who has been by my side along the way.
Thanks again, Cam.
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‘You Were a Great Teammate and Inspiration’
Vikings veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen’s comment on Smith’s post had seen the most reactions of any in the comments.
“Bright future ahead brotha! You were a great teammate and inspiration on how to handle adversity! God bless,” Thielen wrote.
Backup running back Alexander Mattison commented “All love my guy,” a similar response to Irv Smith Jr. who wrote “Love always!” The trio were all Vikings 2019 draftees and had bonded together over the past three offseasons.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold shared Smith’s retirement post with the caption: “Proud of you. One of the best leaders and teammates I’ve ever shared the field with.”
The duo played together at USC for three seasons and helped in the ninth-ranked Trojans knock off No. 5 Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl. Smith led USC with 83 tackles that season as a junior.