The Greatest Achievement of 2020
There has been a lot to work through this year and many individuals have done a lot of great things despite all of the impacts we have seen from Covid-19. To me however there is one standout above everything else, it really isn’t even close in my eyes when it comes to the NFL.
It isn’t any record that has been broken and it isn’t the fact that the Chiefs have gone straight back to the number 1 seed whilst appearing to be the best placed team to win the Superbowl, and in doing so doing what is, historically, extremely hard to do in defending the Championship.
For me just watching Alex Smith run back out onto a football field, let alone to then do it as a starting Quarterback was by far and away the greatest moment of this season. Don’t get me wrong, from a sporting point of view if the Ravens go ahead and win the Superbowl then that would be amazing but from a purely human point of view, Alex Smith and his comeback is the pinnacle of this season.
Every year there is an award given to Comeback Player of the Year and this year, whilst Big Ben has done extremely well coming back from a surgery to his elbow, if Alex Smith does not receive the award something has gone horribly wrong. Whilst the award will in no way make up for the last two years and everything that Smith has gone through, it will be a small token of acknowledgment from the league and those he plays with that what he went through is recognised by all, that although undoubtedly there were times he felt isolated and alone, that in spirit he wasn’t.
Whilst I don’t want to make this a horrific blow by blow account of what happened to Alex Smith it is worth noting just what happened on 18th November 2018 and in the following months.
In the third quarter of a game against the Houston Texans, Smith dropped back as he had done many times before and scanned the field. What he saw, rather than open receivers, was the Texan’s J.J. Watt coming towards him, fast. As Alex Smith was tackled his right leg folded in under him in a way that meant as he came down the full force of both himself and Watt on top of him was taken through the bones in his lower leg. Smith suffered a compound fracture that broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. In effect the leg was snapped in two.
This would have been more than enough for any individual, let alone a world class athlete, to recover from however that was not the end of the matter for Smith. During his recovery he contracted a form of flesh eating bacteria to his leg and as a result of this infection he became septic, a condition which caused his body to release chemicals to fight the sepsis. These chemicals themselves increased greatly the risk of organ damage, this condition was life threatening in the truest sense. At a very early stage the doctors were faced with the task of eradicating the infection otherwise they would have had to amputate Smith’s leg above the knee.
What followed for Alex Smith was 20 months of, what I am sure he would term, hell whilst he underwent a total of 17 procedures to treat both the fractures and subsequent infection followed by untold hours of physical therapy to get his limb back to a usable state. It was not until July 2020 that Alex Smith was cleared by his doctors to return to the practice field.
The Comeback Begins
Even at this point I would expect Alex Smith did not necessarily envisage going back to playing as a starter in the NFL, that he was able to run around and train was a miracle in itself considering where he had come from. On top of this the Washington Football Team had a 1st Round second year Quarterback on the squad in the form of Dwayne Haskins from whom the franchise was expecting big things.
Smith himself was a first round pick in the 2005, in fact he was the first choice in the Draft, taken by the San Francisco 49ers, the same draft that bore a little known Quarterback by the name of Aaron Rodgers (ironically enough Smith was taken by the team Rodgers supported as a boy and had designs on going to himself, fate works in mysterious ways).
Alex Smith understood the pressures faced by a Quarterback taken so early, the hopes placed on them by thousands of individuals, both employees and fans of a franchise. He has form for working with new Quarterbacks and mentoring them through those first weeks and months of their professional careers, I am sure Patrick Mahomes could not say enough good things about him after their year together in Kansas City.
The early reports coming out of Washington were promising however, he was throwing well and looked mobile enough, whilst he was not involved in padded practice he was involved in some 11 v 11 work.
Moving up the Depth Chart and Back to the Field
Through the first four weeks of the season Smith was inactive whilst he worked back to fully padded practices. Things picked up steam however in week five following the Football Team’s decision to demote Haskins to QB3. Smith would suit up as Kyle Allen’s back-up but realistically how often do we see back-ups get on the field, surely not straight away….
Well it turns out that we see them before half time in this instance. Just before the two minute mark Kyle Allen took a heavy sideline hit from LA Rams Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and could not continue. Almost 23 months after being knocked out of action Alex Smith came back on to the field, leg encased in a titanium brace, and threw his first pass in anger, the rest is history. His stats for the game were nothing outstanding, he went 9/17 for 37 yards but just the fact that he was able to run back out onto that field was unbelievable, it was as heartwarming a moment that you are likely to ever see watching this sport. That he did this and then had to deal with the full weight of Aaron Donald on his back as his first meaningful contact will have knocked away a few of the doubts surrounding the status of his leg and whether it would hold up.
Over the next 12 weeks of football Alex Smith has continued to progress and has re-assumed the starters role, Haskins having since been released by the Football Team, that was his prior to his injury and in that time has managed to steer the Washington to the brink of the playoffs, albeit in a division mired in mediocrity where all four teams have losing records. Whether they make it is up to the result this coming weekend however even if they do not this season will go down in Washington folklore.
Renaming the Award?
There is a petition making the rounds making the case that players should now receive the ‘Alex Smith Comeback Player of the Year’ award and this has received just shy of 6,000 signatures to date. Whether or not this is ever even considered by the NFL it doesn’t really matter.
What Alex Smith has been through and fought back from is something that should be an inspiration to everyone, not just professional athletes. He is a shining example of what hard work and dedication in the face of adversity will get you if you want something enough. It’s the kind of things kids should be shown as an example when parents are teaching them not to not give up.
For anyone else to receive the award this year there would, in my opinion, have to be some grave error on many voting forms, there won’t be and as such I think this is as much of a sure thing as there is when it comes to the NFL this year and rightly so. If I had a vote I know exactly where it would be going and it would be going there so fast that the slip would not even have time to touch my desk.
There may not ever be such a worthy recipient of this award and I think J.J. Watt summed up via Twitter how everyone should, and probably is, feeling about Alex Smith’s comeback:
“What Alex Smith has done is unbelievable. Comeback Player of the Year even before taking a snap. But playing winning football after everything he’s been through is even more incredible.”
In my mind all that remains is for this to be made official on awards night in February to come. At that point everyone will get a chance to congratulate Alex Smith officially for what has been unofficial all season, that he is the comeback player of the year, perhaps even of all time.
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