NFL Countdown #17: Alex Smith suffered a gruesome spiral compound fracture in his right leg in November of 2018, and battled through 17 surgeries to get back to playing football. He first returned to the field 693 days later, and ended up 5-1 in his starts to bring the Washington Football Team to the playoffs.
On October 11th, 2020, every football fan in the world was on the same page for the first and last time. We watched with cautious optimism, followed by abject terror as Alex Smith completed his 693 day-long journey back onto the football field. The Rams were up 20-7 and Jalen Ramsey knocked Washington Football Team quarterback Kyle Allen out of the game with an illegal hit just before the end of the first half. Dwayne Haskins was on the sideline in street clothes, so Alex Smith began warming up to take the field. Every single football fan was rooting for him.
Alex’s wife and kids were among the few hundred in attendance on that rainy Sunday at FedEx Field, sitting in nervous anticipation as the man they supported through 17 surgeries took his first snap after being told many times he may never walk again. Scott Turner, the offensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team, dialed up an easy pass to runningback J.D. McKissic in the flat after clearing the area with pre-snap motion. Smith dropped back and got the ball out as the entire Rams front-four was five yards in the backfield, hitting McKissic for a 6-yard gain. Two plays later, the entire football community groaned in unison as eventual 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, ripped through the line and jumped on Smith’s back to get his first sack on the eventual Comeback Player of the Year. Alex Smith’s legs crumpled under him, but he was able to spring back up and jog off the field to make way for their punt team.
Aaron Donald ended up sacking Smith two more times before the game ended, and his teammates added three more. Many NFL fans have said Alex Smith clinched his Comeback Player of the Year honor the moment he stepped on the field that day. He was sacked a total of 22 times in 2020, and ended up winning five of his six starts for the Washington Football Team. Alex Smith helped his team win 5 of their 7 total wins last season, making a late season push to win the NFC East and bring the WFT back to the playoffs for their first time since 2015.
Alex Smith was on the receiving end of one of the more gruesome injuries in NFL history, battled through 17 surgeries, and smiled through the pain throughout his 693-day recovery. He didn’t leave the hospital until 28 days after his injury, and wasn’t seen in public for another 36 days, when he attended a Washington Wizards game with a gigantic external fixator on his leg. Weeks later, his leg became infected again and was so badly damaged that he was granted special clearance to receive treatment at a military facility. 209 days after his injury, Alex Smith was finally able to remove his external fixator and began the process of learning to walk again. 627 days after his injury, Smith was finally cleared to play football again.
Alex Smith was told countless times that he would never play football again, or that he would never walk again, or that his infections had a serious chance of killing him. He never gave up. Alex Smith persevered and gave us one of the best comeback stories in all of sports, all thanks to at least a few hundred medical professionals, the support of his family, and his determination to get back to the game he loved.