By: Tyler Kirk
On November 18th, 2018, the Washington Football Team was playing against the Houston Texans. In the middle of the third quarter, Washington Quarterback Alex Smith was sacked on the opponent’s 38-yard line by three-time Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt. Smith has been sacked hundreds of times in his career, and typically would always jolt right back up. Only this time, he could not. Smith suffered a compound fracture that broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. This would not only end Smith’s season, but Washington’s as well. Entering the game, Washington held a 6-3 record. Without Smith, Washington finished their season 7-9.
One odd fact worth noting: The day of Smith’s injury occurred on the 33rd anniversary of former Washington QB Joe Theismann’s infamous injury. In a matchup against the New York Giants, Theismann was sacked on the opponent’s 38-yard line by another three-time Defensive Player of the Year – Lawrence Taylor. Theismann had suffered a compound fracture in his leg and would never play another snap in the NFL. Same date, same injury, same high caliber of player causing the injury, and the same yard line. Not even to mention that Joe Theismann himself was at the game when Smith went down. You cannot make this stuff up.
After receiving immediate surgery on his leg the day of the injury, everything appeared to be progressing smoothly. That was until three days later, when doctors became very alarmed when they found that Smith had bacteria in his blood that could potentially be life-threatening if not treated immediately. For the better part of the next year following that, everything would go downhill for Alex. From what originally appeared to be a season-ending injury only and him returning to play the following season, Alex would have to deal with the possibility of losing his life and the possibility of losing his leg through amputation.
Roughly 300 days and 17 surgeries later, Alex was walking again on both of his legs, something that seemed nearly unfeasible not too long before that. Although his wife and kids were his main motivation to making a full recovery from all of this, he never lost sight of football. By the start of training camp for the upcoming 2020-21 NFL season, Alex was ready to play again. Although he began the season as a backup to quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen, Alex would make it onto the field again.
On October 11th, 2020, nearly 23 months after his horrific injury, Kyle Allen was injured in a game against the Los Angeles Rams. Dwayne Haskins, who had been benched by coaches before the game, was not dressed to play. As a result, Alex would get his chance to shine. Once he took that first snap since his injury, it was all worth it. All the pain endured, terrifying surgeries, countless time spent rehabbing – the entire unimaginable journey, was worth every bit.
Washington, who began the season 2-6, would go on to finish 7-9, win the NFC East division title, and earn their first playoff berth since 2015. Smith, who started 7 of their final 8 regular season games, was 6-1 as a starter during the stretch. One of those wins even came on a Monday night primetime game against the NFL’s last undefeated team in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 11-0 entering the game. Although he was not putting up dazzling numbers throughout the season, he played winning football, along with being one of the team’s most important leaders.
A week prior to Super Bowl 55, the NFL awards were announced for the regular season. Alex Smith was named this season’s Comeback Player of the Year, a surprise to absolutely no one. In most people’s eyes, including my own, Alex won the award before the season even began.
On March 5th, the Washington Football Team cut Alex Smith as both sides agreed that it would be best to go their separate ways. Alex has said that we would like to continue playing, and he should draw interest from multiple teams around the league. One likely destination could be the Jacksonville Jaguars, as they now have Alex’s former college head coach at Utah, Urban Meyer. Although everyone expects Jacksonville to draft top rated QB Trevor Lawrence with their #1 overall pick, Alex would serve as a very good backup, and even better leader and mentor.
Alex Smith was told multiple things during his road to recovery. He was told he might lose his leg and even his own life at one point. To be where he is at today playing football, and good football at that – is truly remarkable. So thank you, Alex. Thank you for being an inspiration to people everywhere, no matter what their occupation or current situation is. Thank you for showing us what you can achieve when you don’t give up. Thank you for giving us one of, if not the greatest comeback of all time. As a Washington fan myself, thank you for memories, even if they were short-lived. But most of all, thank you for being you.