[size=10pt]Mr. Smoot returns to Washington[/size]

http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/sports/football/15455805.htm

BY DON SEEHOLZER
Pioneer Press
Fred Smoot was held out of the Vikings' exhibition finale at Dallas because of bruised ribs but says there's no way they will keep him out of Monday night's regular-season opener at Washington.

Nothing short of a broken leg could keep the veteran cornerback from playing in that game — his first against the team for which he played his first four seasons.

"Any time you go back to your old stomping grounds, you want to leave an impression on what they're missing out on," Smoot, listed as questionable, said Wednesday. "It's intense to me, believe me. I'm going back to FedEx (Field). After playing there for four years, you know you want to go back and leave a sour taste in their mouth."

The fact that the game will be played Sept. 11, on the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, brings an added element to what figures to be an emotional homecoming.

Smoot was one game into his rookie season with the Redskins when a hijacked jet slammed into the Pentagon. He said it was an experience he never will forget.

"It was crazy, man," he said. "You didn't know what to expect, especially living in that area. Who can say? That plane could have landed in my neighborhood. It was crazy. It was an experience a 21-year-old wasn't ready for, I can say that."

Smoot lived in northern Virginia, about 15 miles from the Pentagon, so it wasn't like he was in the line of fire.

Still, he said, it was an eerie time to be around the nation's capital, with no game that week and security guards patrolling the practice fields.

"Not regular security guards," he said. "I'm talking about troops with guns. Big guns, not no pistols."

Smoot smiled, but there's nothing funny about the memories.

"It was scary," he said. "All of a sudden, everything just changed. No game this week. It was like a moment of silence. … It was like a week of silence. No one knew what to say. What can you say? It was most definitely worse than when the D.C. sniper was running around there."

Smoot said he doesn't have any security concerns about Monday night's game, but it's not like he's expecting a warm reception from the hometown fans.

"I'm the enemy now," he said. "Why would you cheer for us? I think maybe at the end of the game when the winner is decided, maybe I'll get some love then, but I don't expect to get none before the game."

Smoot said he still speaks regularly with some of his former teammates, including fullback Rock Cartwright and cornerback Shawn Springs, and didn't burn any bridges when he signed with the Vikings in March 2005 as an unrestricted free agent.

"I didn't leave there on bad terms," he said. "That doesn't mean I don't want to come back and let it be a fairy-tale story."

Smoot even had kind words for Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who went through three head coaches (Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and current coach Joe Gibbs) during Smoot's four seasons with the team.

"For the players, it's a lovely situation, I can promise you that," Smoot said. "Dan does everything he can for his players. You know, top-of-the-line everything. They're living in the lap of luxury over there."

The Redskins made the playoffs last season, while Smoot and the Vikings stayed home, so he and his new teammates will have added incentive to get this season started off on the right foot.

"I'm sure he's going to be excited, going back home," fellow cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "Hopefully, he can go out there and show off for the crowd."

Safety Darren Sharper said he expects Smoot to experience the same range of emotions he did last November, when he returned to Green Bay for the first time after spending his first eight seasons with the Packers.

"For me going back to Green Bay, it was kind of like coming home, but coming home to where your parents kicked you out," Sharper said. "It was one of those things. You kind of want to go out there and beat the team you used to play with."

Sharper walked away a 20-17 winner in his Lambeau Field homecoming after being greeted by a chorus of boos.

Of course, if Smoot gets the same treatment from the Redskins faithful, he has an out.

He can always claim they're chanting, "Smooooooot!"

"That's what he's going to say," Sharper said, laughing. "It should be fun."