Alex Smith was this year’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and no one can argue with that distinction. Smith didn’t just return to the game after suffering one of the worst leg injuries ever seen on a football field. He actually stepped in, led his team to a 5-1 record in games he started, and netted the Washington Football Team an NFC East title.
So how did he do it? While Smith’s own personal will played a huge role, he also got an assist from an unlikely source: the United States military.
Alex Smith’s crazy NFL career
After a standout college career playing for Urban Meyer at the University of Utah, Smith was the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. The San Francisco 49ers took him.
It took a few years for Smith to play well — he was viewed as a borderline bust for quite some time. Eventually, under the stewardship of head coach Jim Harbaugh, Smith led the Niners to the NFC Championship game during the 2011-2012 season.
Colin Kaepernick replaced Smith the next season, and before long he was headed to Kansas City. He consistently led the Chiefs to the playoffs with dependable quarterback play until coach Andy Reid drafted Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech.
After sitting out his rookie season behind Smith, Mahomes took over the next year and excelled. In January 2018 Kansas City traded him to the Washington Football Team.
One of the themes of Smith’s career is that he’s often doubted but never fails to prove his detractors wrong in the end. It was in Washington where he’d face his greatest challenge, however.
The gruesome leg injury that nearly took much more than Alex Smith’s career
According to the Washington Post, Smith suffered his horrific leg injury on November 18, 2018. It was on a play in the third quarter against the Houston Texans.
Houston safety Kareem Jackson made it to the backfield for a sack. On the play, Smith suffered a horrific leg fracture. Coincidentally, the game was exactly 33 years, to the day, that former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann had suffered a similar horrible leg injury.
Smith underwent surgery the following day, and it did not go well. While the leg eventually was repaired, Smith suffered from sepsis and nearly had to have his leg amputated to save his life.
After a scary setback, Smith got out of the hospital and started on his long road to recovery. While nearly everyone wished the QB well, hardly anyone expected him to be able to return to football.
How the U.S. Military helped him get back on the football field
Alex Smith told GQ in an interview that the U.S. Military played a major role in his rehabilitation, much bigger than the Washington Football Team did. He said they assisted with the major challenge he had in front of him in coming back:
“It did have to do with the military. Their involvement in my rehab, being the foremost experts on lower limb injuries in the world and the rehab that I was doing, and trying to get back to an elite level. But, really, also the mindset. King of just daring me.
And they were the first ones in a rehab session, really early on, to put a football in my hands. Johnny Owens was the PT, and was really involved in my plan coming back. He put a football in my hand.”
Smith also noted that it was the military doctors who initially gave him the “all clear” to return to action. Alex Smith has made quite the habit out of proving people wrong.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference