Alex Smith's Impossible Comeback Attempt
I’d assume most everyone reading this saw the clips from ESPN’s E:60 special, "Project 11," that revealed just how bad Alex Smith’s leg got after his spiral fracture in 2018.
If you didn’t see it, it’s difficult to look at. His leg from the knee down went from broken, to literally rotting away, to half-missing once all the dead tissue was removed. His leg looked nothing like a football injury and much more like he stumbled on an old land mine or got dragged around by a shark. It was already one of the worst injuries in the sport's history, and it just kept getting worse.
Only a bit over a year ago, his leg was finally cleared of dead tissue and muscle was moved from his left quad to replace what his doctors had to cut away. He had to spend a year with his leg in an external fixator, which looked like a medieval cage with pins holding his leg together. Now, he’s been cleared for football activity. He’s on Washington’s Physically Unable to Perform list, but Ron Rivera has publicly said that, if Smith is healthy, he’ll be competing to start in 2020.
It’s absolutely off-the-wall insane to even think that Smith might take an NFL snap ever again, let alone so soon after his leg was not only shattered but so infected it threatened his life. And yet, here we are, inching ever-closer to the smallest of windows through which that reality exists.
The five seasons Smith spent as the quarterback of the Chiefs were, if nothing else, a collective tale of resilience. Discarded by San Fransisco, Smith and Andy Reid were ostensibly the only thing separating the 11-5 Wild Card Chiefs of 2013 from the 2-14 worst-team-in-the-league Chiefs of 2012.
For a while it felt like, even if they never won the Super Bowl they always seemed so close to, Alex and Andy would share an ending to their careers as a duo dumped by their previous teams only to find a second life in Kansas City.
But then, of course, Patrick Mahomes happened. By the time Smith was jettisoned a second time (this time in 2018) he was older and more comfortable with his own status, so he left KC on better terms than San Fran. Unlike 2013, however, instead of going to an ideal landing spot, he ended up in Washington.
That is the one part of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory that feels just the littlest bit of gross, if only on a matter of basic principle. Of all the teams in the league, they had to doom Alex to Washington. Take the injury out of the equation, and it’s still one of the worst, most incompetent organizations in all of sports. I mean, c’mon, you could have at least sent him to Minnesota or something.
Since Alex's injury, Washington has fallen into the basement both on and off the field, adding the surfacing of years worth of front-office sexual harassment to their list of now-public shames. At least if he suits up again he won’t be doing so as a slur anymore. Alex is officially now a Football Team.
If he really does suit up in 2020, he will have officially sealed a permanent spot on the list of toughest dudes to ever play in the NFL, both mentally and physically. His NFL story, to this point, feels like an epic tragedy. Like Sisyphus, he rolls his football-shaped boulder up the NFL mountain only for it to roll back down again just before he reaches the top.
While he’ll likely never win a Super Bowl, if Smith is able to take just one NFL snap again, even if it’s only a garbage-time hand-off to drain the clock, it would feel like something closer to a happy ending than what seemed to be promised by the catastrophic visuals of his injury. Winning back his starting job would be one of the greatest individual accomplishments in the history of the league.