When Alex Smith was awarded the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award on Feb. 8, it capped off what might've been the greatest individual sports comeback story in history.
Somehow the former Utah quarterback overcame one of the most gruesome sports injuries to make the NFL as a member of the Washington Football team.
Somehow Smith overcame 17 surgeries and a near leg amputation to return to play on the football field.
Somehow he overcame a life-threatening infection to win the NFC east title after going 5-1 as a starter.
Smith's story is one that is going to be told for years to come, and will more than likely be immortalized through a movie so generations will know his name, perseverance and fight.
What's crazy to think is that Smith's story was almost never told — and it wasn't because of him or his recovery.
According to quotes in a recent GQ article, Smith felt as if he was never wanted back by Washington this past fall.
"They didn't see it, didn't want me there, didn't want me to be a part of it, didn't want me to be on the team, the roster, didn't want to give me a chance," he told the magazine. "Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I'm like the leftovers and I'm hurt and I'm this liability.
"Heck no, they didn't want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I'd been through, I couldn't have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I'm giving this a go at this point."
The team has yet to response to Smith's bomb-like comments.
It's a tough break for Smith, who admits that what made this season even more difficult was the leadership in place for the Washington Football team.
When he was hurt back in 2018, Jay Gruden was the head coach while current Washington head coach Ron Rivera was leading the Carolina Panthers. With no ties to Smith and no real ability to understand his full skillset or get to know him personally, Rivera and his new staff had no loyalty to Smith.
"So there was a very small group of people that actually thought that I could do this," Smith said. ?I think the rest of the world either doubted me, or they patronized me. 'Yeah, that's really nice that you're trying.' When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team's plan."
Smith finished the season throwing for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 66.7% of his passes — but that doesn't guarantee that he'll be suiting up for Washington this upcoming season.
The last two seasons of Smith's contract have non-guaranteed salaries for both the 2021 ($18.75 million) and 2022 ($20.75 million) seasons. If Washington elects to keep him on his current contract, he would have a $24.4 million salary cap hit next year. Should Washington choose to cut Smith before June 1, it would have only $10.8 million count against its salary cap due to his prorated signing bonus, but it will clear $13.6 million to be used in free agency.
He began the season as the third-string quarterback and was bumped to backup when starter Dwayne Haskins was benched in favor of Kyle Allen. Allen then suffered a serious injury and was ruled out for the season, promoting Smith to the starting role and essentially winning him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
With Allen expected to make a full recovery and assume the starting role again next season, it could spell the end of the road for Smith in Washington. But that doesn't mean that it's the end of his playing career
"I got more left," Smith said. "I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I'm at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. At some point, I'm obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we'll see."
In a recent feature on CBS' '60 Minutes,' Smith spoke in great detail regarding his comeback and everything he overcame to return to the field. Seated with him was his wife Elizabeth, who also spoke about the mental and emotional aspects of the comeback for not only Alex, but for her and the family as well.
Smith was an inspiration to nearly every player in the league, many citing his perseverance and resiliency to just play football again, let alone win.
"It is humbling when I hear that," Smith said. "I know for how long I spent thinking about and looking at the men and women who inspired me. I am stuck in the hospital bed, stuck in a wheelchair, spent countless hours googling and looking at videos of our service men and women going through the same rehab as I went through.
"So there were definitely people in front of me that I am so thankful for that allowed me to go down this path. And obviously I am humbled and I guess you hope that you can kind of be a link in that chain for anybody coming behind you."
Smith is potentially the greatest quarterback to play for the Utes, leading the team to a 2004 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 19 Pittsburgh. That Utah squad was known as the original "BCS Buster," finishing the season 12-0 and No. 4 in the AP rankings.
He threw for 5,203 yards and 47 touchdowns to eight interceptions, completing 66.3% of his passes with a quarterback rating of 164.4. He added 1,072 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 3.5 yards per carry.
Smith then parlayed that success into a solid NFL career, playing with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the Washington Football Team in 2018.
As of right now, he's thrown for 35,650 yards, completing 62.6% of his passes for 199 touchdowns to 109 interceptions and a career passer rating of 86.9. He's added 2,604 rushing yards (19th all-time by a QB) and 15 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
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