TAMPA, Fla. — Just getting on the practice field was a victory for Alex Smith. Leading Washington to the playoffs? The stuff dreams are made of, perhaps.
The 36-year-old quarterback completed a remarkable comeback from a broken right leg that required 17 surgeries to repair. Smith stepped in to start eight games before a strained right calf in the same leg sidelined him for the postseason spot he helped the team secure.
But Smith had overcome the doubts — and doubters.
“You know obviously that was a big part of my initial part of my rehab when I wasn’t even really thinking about football at that point, way more concerned with everyday life and tasks, and things,” he said. “And obviously fortunate enough it did progress to the point where when I started to think about football, it still seemed distant for a long long time.
“As I worked toward that it was a complex thing, trying to figure out bracing that would best work to try to play quarterback. It literally came up for this summer when I finally got the go-ahead that my bone had healed enough that I could attempt it.
“But even then I think it was hard for a lot of people to digest that I wanted to do this, that I wanted to attempt this. I did get a lot of pushback throughout the entire process. Why was I doing this? This was crazy. There were definitely periods throughout the entire two years of setbacks and when I really would doubt anything like this was possible.”
It was so possible that Smith nearly swept the voting for The Associated Press 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Smith received 49 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.
Everyone across the league cited Smith as an inspiration.
“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.”
The other vote went to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had a strong season coming off right elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season in Week 2.