By: Lindsey Young
It isn't tough to identify Harrison Smith's autograph.
The strong, parallel lines of an H and trademark pair of Ss are woven together by smaller twists, then a 22 is added just to the right of his name. Harrison has signed thousands of footballs, Vikings jerseys, trading cards – and even a car – over his 10-season NFL career.
This year, though, two signatures have stood far and above the rest.
On April 17, Harrison signed a marriage certificate shortly after saying "I do" to his longtime sweetheart Madison. It was four months later that he inked his second contract extension that ideally will allow him to finish his career as Viking.
Years ago, Harrison couldn't have envisioned being with one team for a decade.
His talent on the football field was well-documented out of Notre Dame. But even when Minnesota drafted him 29th overall in 2012, he didn't allow himself to look too far ahead.
"I was just hoping I was good enough to play in the NFL, to be honest," Harrison recently told Vikings.com. "I never thought about the longevity of my career or anything beyond the first rookie minicamp, to be honest.
"I think that helped me – because I really just focused on being a good football player. That's all I can control," he added.
And he's proven exactly that over the past decade.
The 32-year-old is the Vikings franchise leader with four interception returns for touchdowns, and his 28 interceptions rank seventh all-time and third among Minnesota safeties in team history. Of 133 games played, he's started all but one.
Former Vikings cornerback Terence Newman knew shortly after meeting "The Hitman" in 2015 that he was teaming with a special player.
"We would be in the film room, and out of nowhere Harry would ask a question," Newman recalled. "I remember [former defensive backs coach Jerry Gray] sitting in there, and I was like, 'Damn, that's a good question.' And Coach Gray was like, 'You know what? I'm gonna ask Zim' (Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer). I'll get back to you.'
"And that's when I knew," Newman continued. "Just the fact that he asked a question that stumped a coach, that's when I knew; I was like, 'OK.' Guys are kind of scared to ask questions, but Harry was always asking questions, I was asking questions, and I think that's a way for guys to be leaders."
Harrison was a full-time starter from day one, and his impact on the NFL was felt immediately. But he never settled, Newman noted, or became complacent with his performance.
As Harrison continued to grow in his knowledge and execution of Minnesota's defensive scheme, he also grew in his relationship with Madison away from the field.
The two didn't start dating until fall 2012, but their history with one another goes way back.
Harrison and Madison first crossed paths as elementary schoolers on a youth swim team in Knoxville, Tennessee.
It wasn't exactly love at first sight, the two admitted.
"I kind of thought she was mean," quipped Harrison of his impressions as an 8-year-old.
"Well, maybe it was because he was annoying," Madison playfully bantered back.
Madison's earliest memory of Harrison is of him perfectly playing the "little brother" role to his sister Natalie, Madison and their friends.
"The girls would be hanging out in the shallow end, and he would come and do cannon balls and splash us," Madison recalled.
Harrison has always been a gifted athlete. But swimming? Well, it did technically earn him one of his first trophies.
"When swim team season started, we would watch Harrison and think, 'Oh my goodness, will he make it across the pool?' He looked like he was drowning," Madison recalled endearingly. "But he always showed up and tried really hard. Just about every year, he would get the Most Improved trophy."
Harrison tells a gentler story:
"I couldn't swim very well, but she was like the star," he explained. "We were never great friends or anything at that time, but we always had a ton of mutual friends and knew each other through that."
For the love of the game & the girl
What started as acquaintances gradually developed into a strong friendship that held up long-distance through college at Notre Dame and Tennessee for Harrison and Madison, respectively.
Harrison garnered plenty of attention during his time with the Fighting Irish, and it surprised no one when he was nabbed in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Minnesota had found a starting safety, and it didn't take long for Harrison to recognize the Vikings were the perfect fit for him.
He noted the Vikings "approach to the game" over the years under the Wilf family ownership group.
"There's a lot of tough people here, people who care. You want to be a good player for other people, not only yourself," Harrison said. "There's a level of selfishness you have to have to be a good professional athlete. But beyond that, what you can do for others to make the team better, that's something I noticed right when I got here – the teammates I had, the coaches, the front office, you have to take care of business and be selfish in that regard, but it benefits everyone else. And I really bought into that."
Ten years in, that sentiment holds.
Recently, Harrison has seen players leave Minnesota and then return – among them were Andrew Sendejo in 2019 and Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Sheldon Richardson and Mackensie Alexander this year – in even greater appreciation of the organization.
"Even guys [who are new], they always comment on how good of an organization it is, how good of a locker room it is," Harrison added. "Everyone in the building is here to try to be successful, to try to win. I can't compare because I haven't been anywhere else, but every new guy who's come here has said that, and every guy who's returned has said that."
In his first 10 NFL games, Harrison recorded 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and even his first interception, which he returned for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
The Vikings bye that season fell on Week 11, just before Thanksgiving, and Harrison returned home to Knoxville to visit family, friends and Madison, whom he'd begun to see as more than the "mean girl" in swim class.
The guy took the girl out for sushi, and that first date set their story in motion.
Just like he came to realize he wanted to spend his whole career in Minnesota – "I think it happens over time; there's no one specific instant" – Harrison grew to know that Madison would be his forever teammate.
The couple dated for years – through the ups and downs of life, and of football seasons.
Harrison earned five consecutive Pro Bowl nods (2015-19) and an All-Pro designation. He weathered the heartache of a 2015 Wild Card loss to Seattle and rode the roller-coaster of 2017 that included the elation of the Minneapolis Miracle followed immediately by falling in the NFC Championship Game.
One of the hallmarks of their relationship, Harrison said, is the way he and Madison challenge each other to be their best selves and also support each other in every endeavor.
Madison of course has been supportive of Harrison's football career, as well as his community efforts such as partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities. And on the flip side, Harrison championed Madison's work as lead fundraiser and assistant executive director for Tennessee-based nonprofit Friends of Literacy.
"Whatever it is, Harry's always been on-board," Madison said.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, everything slowed, shut down or stopped.
The NFL Draft was held remotely, OTAs and minicamp were held virtually and the league canceled the 2020 preseason. Players spent more time in their hometowns and with family, and it presented the perfect time to pop the question.
A pandemic proposal may be a little less pomp and circumstance, but Harrison and Madison wouldn't have it any other way.
Harrison worked in secret with Madison's mom, who arranged to have the couple over for dinner on a July evening. The plan seemed perfect, until Madison fell behind in her schedule that day and threw together a quick short-and-T combo, paired with freshly washed, still damp, hair.
After all, she thought, it was dinner at Mom's house.
"When I was getting ready, Harry was like, 'Is that what you're going to wear?' And I'm like, 'Well, I don't want to be late. I'd rather be on time than look nice. I really let everybody down," Madison laughed.
"I thought for sure that I would know when he was proposing because he's not very good at keeping secrets," she said.
It wasn't until she noticed her mom "all glammed up and looking gorgeous" and was ushered out into the backyard of her childhood home, though, that Madison realized something special was about to happen.
"Harry looks at me and gets that look in his eye, and he goes, 'Let's go out to the field.' We brought Deuce with us – it was sweet," Madison said of the couple's chocolate Lab. "He said, 'Deuce, sit. I'm gonna get down on a knee, too.'
"And then he proposed – with me and Deuce, in my mom's backyard," Madison smiled.
The quiet, intimate moment was apropos for a man of such few words, and he and Madison enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate with her mom and stepdad, and with Harry's parents, who live on the same street.
Then, it was time to plan a wedding.
Harrison will study film for hours, but he doesn't share quite the same passion for cake-tasting and centerpiece-choosing. His only request? To choose the tuxedos for himself and his two brothers.
Which means he didn't retain when Madison reminded him (multiple times, she notes) that she had eight bridesmaids, and the wedding party would certainly look lopsided if he didn't select groomsmen. On the eve of the wedding, Harrison realized he'd dropped the ball, metaphorically speaking.
"For some reason I thought I didn't [need groomsmen]," Harrison recalled. "So the night before, Madi started talking about, 'All right, so, he's gonna walk her down the aisle …' and I'm like, 'What do you mean?' She goes, 'You have eight groomsmen.' I was like, 'I have none. I have zero.' "
And so Harrison asked his groomsmen – including Sendejo and Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr – to stand by his side with approximately 24 hours' notice.
"It was a super small wedding, and luckily it was black tie … so it worked out," Harrison laughed.
He and Madison were married on a beautiful spring Saturday at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The regal grounds and mansion held special meaning to Madison, who had visited the estate countless times growing up with her father, who passed away in 2013.
"That was me and my dad's special place," Madison said. "It was so beautiful. And … it honestly felt like home because my family was there, everybody that I loved was there. I'd been envisioning it for months on end, and then finally seeing it come together was seriously magical."
Mr. and Mrs. Smith cherished a night of celebration with loved ones and friends from near and far. In addition to Barr and Sendejo, Griffen, Eric Kendricks and Xavier Rhodes also were guests.
"It was awesome," Griffen said. "I've known Harry for a long time, through the ups and downs, and it was awesome seeing him and Madison tie the knot. It was just a blessing to be able to be there."
When the time came for the first dance (Marvin Gaye's "Last Chance"), Harrison and Madison called an audible at the line.
They'd attended ballroom dance lessons, she said, for the occasion – but in the heat of the moment forgot the game plan entirely.
The couple exchanged uncertain glances with one another before bursting out laughing, realizing their plight, and making the only logical choice: ditching the choreographed dance.
"We were like, 'Let's just dance.' We freestyled it instead," Madison said with a smile.
Home is where the heart is
In less than two weeks, Harrison and Madison will celebrate their six-month anniversary.
The date lands on a Sunday, so rather than tie a tie or clasp cufflinks for a dinner out, Harrison plans to suit up for his 136th regular-season game with the Vikings. Ironically, they're slated to play the Panthers in North Carolina, about 130 miles from The Biltmore.
Playing 10 seasons in the NFL is significant. The fact that he's done it all with one team? That makes it even more special.
"[The contract extension] is obviously something I wanted – to be here in Minnesota," Harrison said. "And it speaks too, from the team side, that they want me here. So mutually, it just makes everything smooth … It's that kind of commitment from both sides. You just want to work that much harder."
"Ever since I got here, the community's been super welcoming. Not even just the Twin Cities, but the whole state," Harrison added. "The way people treat you, the way people support you. And again, you want to be successful for the community, as well."
Thinking back over the years, Madison is just as thankful.
"I just think it's been amazing," she said. "And although we've 'lost' a lot of good friends to other teams, it's been the best getting close to the people who have been here just as long as we have."
Madison mentioned Everson and Tiffany Griffen, whom she's known "from day one." The feeling is mutual for the 2010 draft pick who has had a front-row seat to Harrison's successful NFL career.
"Harrison, he's a very humble guy. He's very smart, and he came in right away doing the right things – from being drafted first round, he carried himself in the right way, and that's carried over to his career," Griffen said. "He's been one of the best safeties in this game ever since I've been here. It's a privilege watching him grow up and seeing the things he's done."
Harrison continues to do those things at a high level.
Last week against Seattle, Harrison notched eight tackles to help the Vikings rally against the Seahawks and improve to 1-2 on the season. Today they'll look to build on the victory and reach .500.
"The teammates I've had have been phenomenal since I came into Minnesota in 2012. I've learned a ton from a lot of them, defense, offense, whatever," Harrison said. "To play as long as I have and to continue playing, it's not just an individual thing. It's a team thing, so I'm very grateful to those that have helped me along the way."
Note: All wedding photography included in the graphics and story is by All Bliss Photography.