Just short of 21 months ago, Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith suffered one of the most devastating leg injuries anyone has ever seen on a football field — one eerily similar in type (and circumstance) to the one that ended the playing career of Washington quarterback Joe Theismann exactly 33 years before.
This is still insane pic.twitter.com/0uzkmPg0XB— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) May 3, 2020
But unlike Theismann, Smith’s leg became infected. He ended up enduring not a single surgery (as Theismann had), but a total of 17 operations documented by a grisly ESPN special released in the spring.
In late July, Smith’s own doctors cleared him to return to the team, which placed him on their physically-unable-to-perform list. But on Sunday, we learned that Washington team doctors had cleared him to rejoin the active roster before their padded practices begin on Monday.
Smith will now have the chance to compete with Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen, hoping to finish the four-year, $94 million contract he signed in 2017 the same way he started it: as the team’s starting quarterback.
Aside from Smith’s own family, no one is happier for him that two of his biggest fans: Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“How great is that? I’m so happy for him,” Reid told reporters on Sunday after the team’s third padded practice of training camp. “He’s dirty tough. He loves playing the game; he didn’t want it to end the way it ended with the leg. So he’s back. We all saw the “E:60” special and the rehab that he went through — that day-in and day-out grind of the rehab. I’m very, very happy for him. I’m happy for the Washington team, too.”
Today was a good day pic.twitter.com/2MD4C4UJpI— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) August 16, 2020
Upon his arrival in Kansas City in 2013, Smith was one of the key pieces Reid added to revive the fortunes of a team that had finished 2012 as the NFL’s worst, taking it to the playoffs in four of the next five seasons. In 2017 — his final year in Kansas City — Smith also played a key role in grooming his replacement: the phenomenal Mahomes, who was named league MVP in his first season as a starter — and Super Bowl MVP in his second, leading the Chiefs to their first championship in 50 years.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Mahomes said on Sunday. “I texted Alex before the season — before training camp got going. Him just being there and being able to be cleared by his doctors — and now getting cleared by Washington’s doctors — being out there and being able to perform shows the grit that he has. He’s someone that helped me out a ton in my career — and he’s always persevered. I expect him to keep persevering as his career goes on.”
No one knows where Smith’s career will now lead. But the man who went through the same injury almost 35 years ago thinks that Smith already has one award locked up tight.
“He has gone through a lot more than I had to go through,” Joe Theismann told ESPN. “For me, it was a question of the leg healing and then trying to do certain things required of the quarterback position. Alex came within 24 hours of losing his leg. I didn’t wind up with complications; he wound up with a tremendous amount of complications. It wasn’t just healing from a broken leg. The mountain he had to climb is so much greater.
“No matter what happens, he’s already won the award for comeback player of the year.”