If Alex Smith, the quarterback for the Washington football team, needed reassurance that his right leg would hold up after two years and 17 surgeries out of the game, he did it fairly quickly. About 700 days after a capture of JJ Watt left him with a compound spiral fracture to his right leg and one of the most gruesome injuries in NFL history, he returned to play and was quickly fired by Defensive Player of the Year. Aaron Donald.
Although the leg had been successfully repaired, with 28 screws and three plates, the journey had been long, complex and quite terrifying. At one point, his leg became infected with a flesh-eating bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis. Smith then developed sepsis, a complication of an infection that occurs when a body’s immune response damages its own tissues, leaving him with two options: amputate his leg or undergo a series of surgeries to try to save it. Neither option was good, and neither left Smith, a former number one in the overall team, much of a chance to get back to playing soccer.
But with the help of rehab specialists at the Center for the Intrepid, where veterans who have suffered blast injuries are treated for similar injuries, it is unlikely that Smith would return to Washington’s roster as the third quarterback. (He says the team didn’t expect him or didn’t want him back.) At the end of the season, he became the starter, won five of six starts and led the team to the playoffs.
For all that, Smith took home the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award a few weeks ago. (Duh.) He spoke to GQ to talk about the decision to keep his leg, the reasons why he decided to play soccer again, and the chances that we will see him on the field again in 2021.
Why play soccer again this year?
That’s the big question. Why? Why should I do that? Just go be happy with the rest of your life. I think of two things. As I said, so much time passed that I had great doubts about going back to playing with my children, to be a normal person. You really think about everyday things, like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, taking a shower, being able to play golf again, going for a walk, hiking, whatever, skiing, mountain biking. May l anything?
It had to do with the military. His involvement in my rehab, being the world’s leading lower limb injury experts and the rehab I was doing, and trying to get back to an elite level. But, in reality, also the mentality. King of challenging me. And they were the first in a rehab session, very early, to put a soccer ball in my hands. Johnny Owens was the PT and he was really involved in my comeback plan. He put a soccer ball in my hand.
I hadn’t touched a soccer ball and I was a little bitter at soccer because I was like, I was playing this stupid game and [the injury] it happened. I remember how good it felt to play ball, how good it felt to have a soccer ball in hand. I had been playing ball my whole life and how natural it felt. My rehab was better. I just enjoyed doing rehab with a soccer ball in hand: Give me the ball to see if I can do this. I started thinking about playing more as a quarterback.
It really gave me energy. It started to turn into this thing, to put this madness out there. I knew that if I never made it, my life would be better. I could do more. I was going to take my rehab further than I would if I had settled on being able to stand or play golf. I know I’m old and old in football terms, I’m 36 years old, but I thought, “Man, I have the rest of my life. I have little kids. There are all these things that I want to do and that I’ve dreamed about doing outside of the football “. I knew that football was a vehicle to try to do this madness and ambition. I knew that even if I didn’t get there it would be better and I wouldn’t regret having settled, that I was happy just playing golf. And I love golf, so I don’t mean it in a bad way.