Comeback Player

Alex Smith went from being one of the most respected quarterbacks in the NFL to a tragic player following a gruesome injury that nearly took his life. Not many would recover, nonetheless play again, but Smith doesn’t play with doubts.

Ryan Leong and Roei Ziv

It was a gloomy day in Landover, Maryland where the then Washington Redskins are set to take on the Houston Texans in a crucial mid season game. The date is November 18th, 2018. It is 3rd & 9 from the Houston 24 yard line. 7:54 remains in the 3rd quarter. Quarterback Alex Smith drops back, within a blink of an eye Smith sees two Houston players running at him at full speed. Smith then starts to run backwards where he is tackled by the two players. While in the tackling act, Smith’s lower leg completely snaps. Fedex Field Turns silent as Smith lays flat on the ground. 

One second he was doing something he loves to do and does daily and the next moment he’s down on the field suffering from an injury

— Avantika Singh

Trainers and medical personnel rushed out onto the field to examine Smith. He is later carted off the field.  What Smith didn’t know was that it would take 17 surgeries and a near leg amputation to be cleared to step back onto the gridiron.

Throughout the NFL fan and player community, people were shocked. On the day of the injury, former Washington Redskins QB Joe Theisman who also suffered a severe leg injury showed his care and love for Smith. “Alex’s leg is exactly like mine 22 yrs ago…I feel so bad for him.” Not only was the former NFL quarterback Theisman shocked but so were football fans at Paly.  

One of those Paly fans who was shocked was senior student Avantika Singh. “Seeing that made me hurt for him”, Singh said. Singh, a lifelong football fan also expressed her gratitude for Smith when she said, “One second he was doing something he loves to do and does daily and the next moment he’s down on the field suffering from an injury that would keep him away from doing something he loves which I bet was really devastating for him.” 

Resilience hasn’t always been the dominant part of quarterback Alex Smith’s game, as his career started off in the best way possible, being drafted with the San Francisco 49er’s first overall pick in the 2005 draft, after an impressive college career at Utah. While playing at Utah, Smith was named his conference’s best player as well as winning the Fiesta bowl against Pittsburgh to top off his remarkable college run. His senior season, Smith threw for 32 touchdowns, a Utah single season record.

Despite his success in college, Smith’s career in the NFL however started off completely different from his almost perfect college career, as he dealt with six new offensive coordinators in his first six years of his young career. This front office turmoil during his first year led to Smith having a more than forgettable rookie year, in which he threw for one touchdown and 11 interceptions, while at the same time boosting a disappointing two and five record. While critics were quick to label Smith “the biggest bust in NFL history” his next five seasons did little to disprove them, as he still lurked in the depths of mediocrity with a poor surrounding cast of receivers, and offensive coordinators being rotated through the system every year. 

This would all change however, when the 49ers were able to find stability with the most prized coach in the market in 2011: Jim Harbaugh, from Stanford University. Harbaugh’s signature fire and intensity coaching style was a perfect fit in San Francisco, as in his first year on the Niners, Smith had the best statistical year of his career, in which the Niners went to their first NFC West Title game since 2002. 

While that first season did end in a disappointing and heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game, Harbaugh and Smith looked to be in the future of the league and a potential superbowl contender in the coming years. 

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

However, just as quick as Smith’s career seemed to be taking off, it would all come crashing down in the middle of the 2012 season when Smith suffered a concussion in the first half in a game against the St. Louis Rams, and was replaced by a little known quarterback at the time, named Colin Kaepernick. While many were quick to count the Niners out for the rest of the year, Kaepernick took the opportunity that was given to him, and literally ran with it, toasting the best of NFL’s defenses with an impressive five and two record and leading the Niners all the way to the Superbowl against the Baltimore Ravens.

However like all the other heartbreaks in the last two years, this superbowl would prove to be no different. The Ravens jumped out to a quick 28-6 lead going into the second half, and while the Niners were able to bring the score within 5 points going into the fourth quarter, ultimately failing on the goal line after a controversial no call that is still talked about to this day. 

While the Niners weren’t able to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to the Bay Area, they did appear to find the new face of their franchise in Colin Kaepernick and with that decision, Smith was shipped off to Kansas City for two draft picks in the coming years. 

During that same 2012 season, the Chiefs were holding it down at the bottom of the AFC West with a horrendous 2-14 record. In the span of four months, Smith went from nearly Superbowl champion, to quarterback for the worst team in the league. 

Similarly to how Smith was doubted in his early years, he would again have to prove his worth in this new city, and he over delivered during the 2013 season. The Chiefs were brought up to the top of the league with a 9-0 start, and secured their first playoff berth in three years. While they did lose in the first round of the playoffs, this was a promising first year for the union of Smith and the Chiefs. 

Smith improved upon his performance, winning 11 games the next season and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1993. The accolades would only continue to pile up, as Smith led the league in QB rating in 2017 and during his stint with the Chiefs, was named to three pro bowls. 

However, during the 2017 season the Chiefs would change the course of their franchise and the course of the league, when they drafted future MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes with their 10th overall pick. While Smith was still putting up great numbers, the potential on Mahomes was just too high for the Chiefs to pass up on, and Smith was again traded, this time to the then Washington Redskins. 

Although Smith again couldn’t bring back a superbowl win for his team, his efforts at quarterback completely changed the fortunes of the Chiefs, as they were able to finally win a superbowl in 2019, after only winning two games four years ago. 

Smith was once again asked to resurrect a franchise from the ground up, and for the first few weeks, it looked like he had worked his magic again. Paly Senior and Washington Football fan Ziggy Tummalapalli recalls that season and Smith’s performance saying, “I personally think he was pretty solid. We were 6-3 at the top of the division, and were en-route to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season. We were I think 3 games clear in first place, so he was doing his job, and doing it well”. Things were looking great for Smith, until of course, he suffered one of the worst injuries in sports history. 

But just what he’s accomplished thus far has still been nothing short of amazing

— Ziggy Tummalapalli

Not only did Alex Smith suffer a horrific fracture on his right tibia on that gloomy day in Maryland, but his body also ended up going into sepsis, a reaction that the body takes when it comes into contact with an infection. The sepsis Smith underwent nearly took his life, and it took the hard work of his doctors to save him. At first Alex Smith was simply hoping to get back onto the field as soon as possible, now doctors tell him he would be lucky to ever walk again. This tremendous injury was all part of an even bigger recovery process. Over the course of 2 years, Alex Smith went from being the quarterback who suffered that horrific career-ending injury, to the warrior that fought back from one of the worst injuries in sports history. Smith defied all odds and is now back practicing with his teammates on the Washington Football Team. According to his doctors, Smith would have been considered lucky to play catch with his children following the injury, but now he’s back playing in one of the most competitive leagues, at one of the most competitive positions in sports. This simply cannot be considered anything short of a miracle.

Will Alex Smith be able to play at the same level as before he was hurt?

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