The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 8, 2012

Vikings rookie awaits punishment for shoving ref

Harrison Smith made a long, slow walk off the field, up the tunnel and into the Vikings locker room Sunday.

The rookie safety knew he messed up by putting his hands on a game official and felt terrible about it.

“It was just stupid for me to be involved,” Smith said afterward. “I just got kind of caught up in the heat of the moment, and you can never touch the officials. They have a hard enough job as it is, and to make it harder on them is just stupid and is something I don’t ever want to do from this point on.”

Smith was ejected in the second quarter of a 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Mall of America Field after he pushed back judge Steve Freeman after an interception by Antoine Winfield.

Smith and several Titans players were jawing at each other at the end of the play. Freeman pushed Smith backward to separate him, and Smith responded by pushing Freeman aside.

“He grabbed the official when the official was trying to separate them and pushed the official to the side,” referee Jeff Triplette told a pool reporter. “That’s an automatic ejection.”

Asked if Freeman was too aggressive in trying to separate Smith, Triplette said, “(Freeman) was just trying to separate (Smith) from the huddle, and he can’t be shoving him aside.”

Smith didn’t argue that point. He took full responsibility and understands that additional punishment — a hefty fine and/or suspension — is likely. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance, so he got a bird-eye’s view of the incident.

“I’m going to take whatever they give me,” Smith said. “I should never have been there.”

Smith’s contrition sounded genuine. He apologized to Freeman on the field and to his team in the locker room. He also apologized to Vikings fans, calling his actions “unacceptable.”

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