The injury was supposed to be career-ending. It was life-threatening. It would define a 13-year NFL career. An ordinary man would retire after surviving such an ordeal. Alex Smith is not an ordinary man.
November 18th, 2018 was the day when Smith’s career should have ended. The sack by J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson was gruesome to watch. The agony on Smith’s face was even worse. Then came the haunting realization that he suffered a compound fracture to his tibia and fibula in his right leg 33 years to the day when Joe Theismann suffered the exact same injury. The perilous journey to recovery was long and brutal that included 17 surgeries, life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis, a fight against sepsis, and the removal of dead tissue eight different times.
Despite everything, Smith has remained committed to his rehab and fighting his way back to play one more snap of football. “I still have dreams of getting back to where I was and getting back out there,” he told reporters back in 2019. “This has been, obviously, a crazy ride with a lot of unforeseen turns, but without a doubt that’s still my goal.”
Alex Smith And The Impossible Comeback
On July 25th—call it a miracle, an act of God, or the advancements of science—Smith’s surgeons cleared him to play football. After undergoing a physical with the Washington Football Team, they placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which allows the team to monitor his condition as he continues his recovery.
On August 15th, the Washington Football team announced on Twitter, “The next step in the comeback… Alex Smith has been activated off the PUP list.”
The recent comments by new head coach Ron Rivera certainly inspire confidence that Smith will, at the very least, be able to compete for his old job again. In an interview with the Washington Post on August 10th he said, “if Alex is healthy and continues to get healthy and we do activate him, he’s going to be in the throes of this competition. It’s going to unfold I think very nicely for us as a football team. This competition is only going to make you better, it’s going to push the young guys as well. So I just feel really good about what we’re going to be doing as we start going forward. It’ll be a very challenging situation to make sure everybody’s reps are equitable and their competition is the same.”
If things go well then Washington needs to utilize Smith in the best way possible. How? Of all the things that made Alex great on the field, current Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and even Colin Kaepernick can attest it was his mentorship to younger players that makes him invaluable. The situation is already well set up for rookie QB Dwayne Haskins to sit back and watch an old vet ride off into the sunset while learning all he can before rightfully taking over.
No matter what happens, this is the beginning of the end for Smith as a player in the NFL. The first-round pick who beat out Aaron Rodgers as the starting QB for the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, because of having a mellow attitude of all things, has reached the twilight of his career. But at the very least he’ll be going out much better than how he started.
In Smith’s first NFL start, he played a pretty terrible game against the Indianapolis Colts, by throwing four interceptions and getting sacked five times in a blowout 3-28 loss. The 49ers would finish last in the NFC West that year. The next season would start the new trend of Smith playing for a new offensive coordinator, eventually having seven different ones in seven years and having to play under two different head coaches (Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary) while still failing to make the playoffs.
Then came 2011, head coach Jim Harbaugh, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, which resulted in Alex Smith’s rebirth.
Sticking to the basics, Smith kept the mistakes to a minimum, managed the game well, and played selfless. Adding to his leadership skills on and off the field, including searching for then-missing teen Sierra Lamar, and winning over the locker room with his humility and talents led to a magical season. The wins racked up and finally, after seven years, three head coaches, and seven offensive coordinators, Alex Smith made it to the playoffs. And he flourished. The NFC Divisional Playoff win against the New Orleans Saints was driven by Smith. Three touchdowns, no interceptions, and throwing for 299 yards made for a thrilling 36-32 victory. While the 49ers were a game shy of the Super Bowl, falling to the NY Giants in the NFC West Conference game, there was no more doubt. Alex Smith finally lived up to his first-round pick potential and silenced his critics.
For the first eight games in 2012, Smith was on track for a winning season with only two losses under his belt, not to mention career highs in a number of categories including completion percentage and passing yards. Things were looking great for the comeback kid until the St. Louis Rams game, where he suffered a concussion in the second quarter. Then a certain Colin Kaepernick took over and the rest was history.
Following a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid continued Alex Smith’s resurgence. His first season with KC resulted in a 11-5 record and his first trip to the Pro Bowl that resulted in a game winning pass to DeMarco Murray while also leading all quarterbacks in yardage. The next four years Smith would win many accolades, including making the NFL’s Top 100 Players list, AFC Offensive Player of the Week, and became the first player in this era of the NFL to have a 70-yard pass and return in the same game. Though the playoff performances weren’t up to his regular season standard, Smith still won the hearts of the KC fanbase.
Smith’s entire career is based on comebacks. In situations like his, most would become complacent or disheartened. He became defiant and kept fighting. A career of ups and downs and on and on, but this will be the last. This will be Alex Smith’s swan song as a player in the NFL. Maybe, however unlikely, Washington keeps Smith for another year or two as a back-up. But we’re in the endgame now.
Alex Smith will play another snap of NFL football and will walk away on his own two feet from the field when he is done. Why? Because he’s no ordinary man.
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