Alex Smith – Comeback kid and Potomac parent who inspires us all


Bryan Derballa

People Magazine | Alex Smith Photo by Bryan Derballa

Naveen Paddock and Walker Lyall

Editor’s note: Mr. Smith kindly reviewed and approved this article before publication. The Current expresses our appreciation to him.

It was November 18th, 2018, as the Washington Redskins kicked off against the Houston Texans. 7:56 was left on the clock in the third quarter. An important 3rd & 9 conversion was needed to continue the drive. With Alex Smith at the helm, the ball was snapped and the pass rush came from the Texans’ defense. He scrambled back, looking for an option, but none were found. Alex tucked the ball in, as he saw JJ Watt come in for the tackle. 

He immediately pulls off his helmet in agony and discerns that something is seriously wrong. Alex later said that his “leg had gone fuzzy” and when he looked down he saw that in fact, his leg “was not at all straight.” 

Alex Smith had broken his leg in two places; almost the exact same career-ending injury Joe Theismann had famously suffered from 33 years earlier. He was immediately carted off the field and taken to the hospital. That night, he underwent emergency surgery on his leg. He was expecting to go home in a couple days when his temperature unexpectedly spiked. Alex had contracted a skin disease that eats away at the muscle. Alex Smith was faced with the difficult decision to amputate his leg or attempt to save it, and he chose the latter. Alex went through numerous surgeries before he could begin the recovery process. This decision resulted in seventeen different surgeries that helped Alex get rid of the disease and forced the doctors to transport muscle from other parts of his body. 

After recovering from all of the surgeries he was cleared to begin rehab, and since his injury was classified as a combat wound, he went to the San Antonio Center for the Intrepid. Alex Smith recalled it as being “a very humbling experience,” as he was among soldiers who had fought in wars across the world.

He spent most of his time remastering simple skills like walking, bending his knee, and shifting weight on and off his leg. It seemed impossible for him to return to football but at the time all he really dreamed of was “to go on a walk with my wife and play with my kids again.” 

Alex progressively moved from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a boot, and finally crutches before he was able to walk on his own accord. During his treatment in San Antonio, Alex saw people who had suffered the same injuries as him that were returning to combat which gave him hope that he could one day return to the football field. 

In order for Alex to play again, however, he first had to be cleared. He walked into a meeting with all of his doctors and expected mixed opinions about his return, but to his surprise, “every single doctor said that I could handle anything and I could go out there and play.” After this fateful day, Alex Smith was cleared to play and he soon returned to practice with his team. He said coming back to football for the first time in two years “felt like [he] was a rookie.” 

On September 5, Alex Smith made the 53 man roster for the Washington football team. Although a big achievement, his journey was not over. After the first-string quarterback Dwayne Haskins was injured, Alex was moved up to the second string behind Kyle Allen. The week leading up to the Los Angeles Rams game, he told himself that he “was only one play away from stepping onto the field.” That time came when Kyle Allen was tackled and carted off the field. After the taxing surgeries and countless hours of rehab, Alex stood under center for the first time in 693 days. He proved a setback, no matter the adversity, can be worked through with a strong mind and perseverance. 

Alex Smith fought through the trauma of his leg injury and started six games and had a personal record of 5-1 winning the NFC East and sending them to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. He has been declared the comeback player of the year. Although his future at the Washington Football Team may be in limbo, he will go down as making one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.