In a world turned upside down, it’s nice to have Alex Smith and Taysom Hill around
Former Utah and BYU QBs, who have both experienced their share of adversity, are in the midst of special seasons
COVID-19 is making a comeback. Half of the country is still not on speaking terms, and that’s not even counting husbands and wives who are cooped up at home hiding from the virus.
What we need is a feel-good story, something to pick us up. What we need is … Alex Smith and Taysom Hill.
How can you not be happy about those guys? How can they not put a smile on your face?
They endured their personal hells and now the sun is shining on them. Don’t you hope there’s a parallel in there somewhere for the country?
Everybody knows Smith’s story. He shouldn’t get Comeback Player of the Year Award; he should be Comeback Player of the Century (the last one and the current one). For that matter, just name the award after him.
Smith’s story is so good they should make a movie out of it, which is what they did. It’s a documentary called “Project 11.” On Nov. 18, 2018, he suffered a gruesome injury — spiral and compound fractures of the tibia and fibula (the two bones of the lower leg), which broke through the skin. Doctors said it was tantamount to a war injury. Then it got worse from there — infection and flesh-eating bacteria.
There was a time when doctors weren’t worried about saving his football career or even his leg; they were trying to save his life. The injury required 17 surgeries, screws, prayers and months to repair. Surgeons had to rebuild his leg with muscle and skin taken from other parts of his body. He was in the hospital for months.
In the late stages of the documentary you are shocked when it becomes clear that Smith wants to return to football. At first you might write it off as a distraction, a mere dream, but then it becomes apparent that he is serious.
And there he was in training camp last summer, making his comeback nearly two years after the injury. It seemed like a novelty act, like the team was humoring him. And then he survived roster cuts. That should have been enough, merely making the team as the third-string quarterback. It was over the top when he was promoted to second string a month into the season. It was shocking when he actually stepped onto the field to play in a game for the first time in 693 days, in relief of the injured starter, which sent former players, observers and media to social media — Alex Smith is in the game!
Then it became storybook stuff when he was made the starting quarterback a week later. Since then he has led Washington to three wins in four games. Last Monday night he was at the controls when Washington beat previously unbeaten Pittsburgh 23-17. In that game, Smith threw the game-tying touchdown pass with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. Two field goals later the team claimed the win.
Smith’s statistics for the season are average and not equal to his previous form — four touchdown passes, five interceptions — but he’s completing nearly 69% of his passes and doing what he has always done: win. He has a career record of 97-67-1. He would have a few Super Bowl rings by now if fate hadn’t dealt him so many cruel hands.
He took the 49ers to within one game of the Super Bowl in 2011 only to lose on two fumbled punt returns. He was 6-2-1 as the starter the next season when he was injured and gave way to Colin Kaepernick, who took them to the Super Bowl.
He joined the Chiefs, a perennial loser at the time, and was 50-26 for five seasons.
He joined the Redskins, another perennial loser. He won six of his first 10 games and then came that stomach-turning leg injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season and the entire 2019 season. Now, against all odds, he’s back on the field. The team was 2-6 when he became the starter; now it is 5-7 and tied for first place in the weak NFC East Division,
If you aren’t holding your breath every time Smith takes a hit, then you didn’t see the documentary or you don’t have a heart. Smith has already been sacked 18 times but his leg has held together.
How can anybody not cheer for this guy?
Or Taysom Hill?
Hill missed 28 games in five seasons with various injuries at BYU. It was strange. He was built like Adonis, but he was as fragile as Baccarat crystal. There was a season-ending knee injury six games into his first season. A season-ending leg fracture five games into his third season. A season-ending Lisfranc fracture in the season opener of his fourth season (an injury that can end athletic careers). A hyperextended elbow in the 12th game of his fifth season.
Despite his tremendous combination of size, speed and athleticism, he was not drafted. He was damaged goods, and it didn’t help that he was hardly a polished passer. He signed with Green Bay as a free agent and was cut. His football career was going nowhere.
And none of this was the worst of it. His older brother Dexter died in 2016 — months before Taysom’s final football season at BYU. A former college quarterback himself, Dexter died, the family revealed, from opiate addiction. He became addicted while taking drugs for pain resulting from football injuries. Taysom switched his jersey number from 4 to 7, his brother’s number, before his senior year at BYU and wears it now for the Saints.
After the Packers cut Hill, the Saints quickly signed him and he has become a phenomenon for his versatility as a receiver, running back, quarterback and special teams player. A month ago he became a starting quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees. He is 3-0 as a starter and looks like the team’s quarterback of the future.
Smith and Hill are enough to give anyone battling through adversity hope for better days.