Inside Alex Smith’s Miraculous Comeback
By Martin Rogers
You don’t need to be a fan of the Washington Football Team, or even like football much at all, to be a fan of Alex Smith. You just need to place some value in the following human qualities: bravery, tenacity and perseverance.
When Smith entered the game during the second quarter of Washington’s 30-10 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday, it was the result of a triumph of the human spirit.
“And it was a miracle,” said FOX Sports college football analyst Urban Meyer, who oversaw Smith during his college career at Utah. “I teared up.”
He wasn’t the only one. The journey Smith has undertaken since he went down with a horrific compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in November 2018 has been incredibly uplifting and terrifyingly fraught.
Amid 17 surgeries and hundreds of hours of grueling rehabilitation were several dangerous infections, prompting the real possibility that his leg could be amputated and that his life could be in danger. The decision to try to save the leg was Smith’s, with doctors and his family believing that the risks of that course of action were too high.
Even if his involvement this season amounts to nothing more than the game time he saw on Sunday, when he came in after Kyle Allen was injured while trying to rush for a first down, Smith will still be every sentimentalist’s choice for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“It was great to be out there, the feeling, the range of emotions, the good and the bad,” Smith told reporters. “It’s why I fought so hard to come back. Sometimes you can take it for granted. Certainly to be away from it for a couple years, I’ve missed it.”
His reappearance under center can be attributed to the success of medical science and personal resiliency, according to renowned orthopedist Dr. Matt Provencher, a former New England Patriots and Navy SEAL physician who now serves as FOX Sports’ injury and performance analyst.
“From a medical standpoint it is incredible that he is back,” Dr. Provencher told me. “It is a testament to his incredible fortitude. The mental part of a recovery like this is everything.
“It is hard to even imagine being in that situation of dealing with all the post-operative pain associated with so many surgeries, fixing the bones, the limb salvage procedures, all the skin grafts. It has been an immense effort on his part and a beautifully executed medical plan using techniques that are beyond cutting edge.”
During his rehab, Smith spent time at the Center of the Intrepid in San Antonio, where he met and interacted with a number of wounded warriors. The type of trauma suffered by Smith two years ago has significant parallels with injuries caused when military personnel step on incendiary devices in combat areas.
According to Dr. Provencher, the recent conflicts the United States has been involved in have resulted in groundbreaking advancements in treatment to these kind of injuries and American orthopedic trauma surgeons have refined exceptional techniques that are now being shared internationally.
Smith has regularly paid tribute to those who assisted him along the path to recovery, with his treatment spearheaded by Washington team physician Dr. Robin West.
An indicator that he was ready to return to full football duties came in the lead-up to the season, when an uplifting video emerged of him being sprayed with champagne by his family.
Yet even then, it appeared that his primary role would be to back up Dwayne Haskins, in the hope that the same kind of expertise that assisted Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Mahomes could have a similar impact.
When Haskins’ struggles led to him being benched, Allen got the nod as the team's starter. With Washington currently sitting at 1-4, yet still only one game out of first in the awful NFC East, Allen is expected to return this weekend against the New York Giants.
“Alex is a brilliant person to have in that situation,” Meyer added. “He is one of the smartest guys I know and his skill set is incredible, but he is also one of the toughest individuals I have come across. I was surprised he came back once I realized the extent of the injury, but not surprised because I knew how tough he is.”
FOX Sports NFL analyst Michael Vick echoed Meyer’s sentiments regarding Smith’s remarkable courage and toughness through this challenging time.
“He has had a stellar career and to show this kind of heart to come back is inspirational,” said Vick, who spent time with Smith during his brief stint as a coaching intern with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2017. “The thought of coming back to help out his team has been at the front of his mind.”
It would be all too easy to doubt Smith. And to wince every time he makes a play; he was sacked six times on Sunday. How can his body possibly be the same? How can his mind be there after everything?
Let’s ask another question – would you feel confident betting against someone who has surmounted so much already?
Smith’s revival was put into starker focus by Dak Prescott’s gruesome injury this past Sunday. Remember that Smith’s condition was far, far worse, so much so that as of Monday he had held off from contacting Prescott because he didn’t want to cause further concern.
“I thought a lot about shooting him a text, but part of me also didn’t want to scare the hell out of him by … getting him thinking he might be headed down this road,” Smith told Dan Patrick. “I feel like I’ll let the infection risk kind of get out of the way and hopefully reach out soon.”
Smith will be back on the sidelines this weekend, offering advice, lending support, and imparting wisdom. Whatever role he has the rest of this season, however Washington’s campaign ends, whatever the rest of his career holds, there is only one way to describe what he has achieved over the past two years.