As Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin put it, Ron Rivera and Alex Smith never felt sorry for themselves despite their predicaments. Instead, they embraced the challenges ahead. And maybe that helped build the foundation for what the franchise can become.
Just before his first 2020 game with Washington, new coach Rivera announced he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. He never missed a Sunday while undergoing chemotherapy, and still was active in the film room after multiple rounds of treatment.
Smith, who wasn't sure two years ago if he'd live, made his return to the gridiron following his gruesome leg injury. Although perhaps the most experience, Washington went younger with second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins getting the call.
Both men could have quit at any moment, focused on their family and focused on their health. Instead, they overcame the adversity and helped WFT reach the postseason.
"You would have never known anything was wrong, by the way. They never had a feel-sorry-for-me moment," McLaurin said on SiriusXM's NFL Radio. "They never really had moments where they were going to use what they were going through as an excuse. They were always going to put their best foot forward."
Smith was given his chance to earn back the starting role after Haskins' struggled and Kyle Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Ultimately, he played in seven games, making six starts and tallying five wins to secure the NFC East in 2020.
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Was Smith a game-changer? Not entirely.
The 37-year-old never threw for more 400 yards on the season, but he did manage to steer the team past a lowly 2-7 start. That was enough to come back week after week and earn the job every Sunday.
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McLaurin, who was a teammate to Haskins at Ohio State, saw a different offense with the veteran on the field as well.
"One thing with Alex, he was just cool, man," McLaurin said. "You come in the huddle, when you see [No.] 11 coming in, you feel like you have a chance. And the way he galvanized our team and put us in the best position to make a playoff run was really cool."
One snap would have been enough, but Smith's played helped him earn the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award before announcing his retirement from the league later that offseason.
As for Rivera, the culture shift established last season has played a vital role in the team's chemistry. Not only is there a positive light surrounding Washington, but also one that seems to be ready to win now.
With the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the quarterback room has a stable option under center. Other additions, such as Curtis Samuel, William Jackson III and Jamin Davis, could propel WFT and established young standouts like Chase Young to new heights in 2021.
"I think Coach Rivera has done a great job of coming in and basically shifting our culture," McLaurin said.
It never seemed like Rivera or Smith took time for themselves. Instead, they built the foundation for a hopeful rejuvenation of football in the nation's capital.
WFT kicks off the NFL regular season on September 12 at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.
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