A split-second after Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith pushed back judge Steve Freeman aside during a confrontation with several Tennessee Titans, the rookie already knew he made a big mistake.
The realization came too late.
Smith was ejected in the second quarter on Sunday after pushing the official in Minnesota’s 30-7 victory over the Titans. It was the first time a player has been ejected from a game this season, and just so happened to come with Commissioner Roger Goodell watching from a Metrodome suite.
“Right after it happened, I realized I put my hands on the official,” Smith said. “You just can’t do it, period. So, I apologize to him. I apologize to my coaches, to my teammates, to the fans. It’s just unacceptable.”
Smith has been one of the biggest keys to the surprising resurgence of the Vikings defense, but he’s quickly gained a reputation as an aggressive, hard-nosed player. He was fined for an illegal hit in the preseason and found himself in the middle of a trash-talking session with a handful of Titans after Antoine Winfield intercepted a pass from Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Freeman stepped in to try to steer Smith away from the area and was guiding Smith back when the safety pushed him to the side to get back in the mix.
“He grabbed the official,” referee Jeff Triplette said. “The official was trying to separate him and he pushed the official to the side. That’s an automatic ejection.”
With the Vikings thin at safety thanks to injuries to Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo, the ejection could have proven costly. But rookie Robert Blanton was able to step in, and the Vikings defense overwhelmed the hapless Titans to improve to 4-1.
Instead, it will probably just cost Smith. He will likely face a fine, or perhaps even more discipline, from the NFL this week.
“To be honest, I’m going to take whatever they give me,” Smith said. “The officials already have a hard job and I should never have been there. I just want to play next week and just help the Vikings win.”
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier had no argument with the ejection.
“From everything I’ve been told it was a justifiable ejection,” Frazier said. “You can’t touch the officials. Just not smart on our part in doing that, and we’ve got to learn from it.”