Alex Smith was recently voted the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, which, in Smith’s case, qualifies as the biggest understatement in the history of understatements. Let’s call Smith the Comeback Player of the Century. Or name the trophy after him. There has never been a comeback like his and likely never will be again.
The final vote for the award was 49-1.
At this point, you should be muttering to yourself: Whattya mean, 49 to ONE?! You mean it wasn’t unanimous? You mean there’s someone in the universe who actually didn’t think Smith was the Comeback Player of the Year? You mean there’s someone who thought another player deserved the honor instead?
Yes, that’s what it means. Somebody voted for … Ben Roethlisberger.
Which means we have a medical emergency on our hands. This voter needs to be found and undergo emergency exploratory surgery to see if he or she has a heart.
Alex Smith was the Comeback Player of the Year the moment he made the roster of the Washington Football Team. He was the Comeback Player of the Year the moment he was promoted from the team’s No. 3 quarterback to No. 2. He was the Comeback Player of the Year the moment he trotted onto the field in Week 5 to actually play in a game for the first time in 693 days and then weathered six sacks at the hands of the Rams defense.
“That is truly one of the most amazing things ... not only that we’ve ever seen, but one of the most amazing things in football history, is him getting back from that injury,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said afterward. “... I’ll be able to tell people forever that I watched that and saw that happen.”
Smith was the Comeback Player of the Year the moment he relieved the starting quarterback again in Week 9, whether he threw for 325 yards or not, which he did. He was the Comeback Player of the Year the moment he was named the starter and won five of six games before being sidelined by another injury.
There was no need to explain the injury he sustained in November 2018 until this point in the column. Is there anyone in the country who doesn’t know about The Injury? The one that shattered both the bones in his lower leg, which broke through the skin. The one that almost killed him when infection set in. The one that required 17 surgeries and rods and screws and prayers to repair, not to mention muscle and skin grafts taken from other parts of his body. There was a time when doctors weren’t trying to save the leg when amputation was a possibility; they were trying to save his life.
Don’t look at the internet photos of the leg unless you have a strong stomach. The leg was black and red and purple and swollen around a canyon of a gash. Doctors compared it to a war injury. He spent months in a wheelchair before he could walk on crutches and then in the fall of 2019 he was able to walk on his own for the first time. It was 20 months before doctors said he could return to football.
He came back from all of that. They should make a movie about it; actually, they did — a documentary called “Project 11.” It is recommended inspirational viewing. You’ll never look at Smith the same, not only because of what he endured but the way he endured it, with grace, gratitude, patience, determination and courage.
And someone didn’t vote for all that as Comeback Player of the Year? Someone voted for Roethlisberger, who came back from elbow surgery.
Even before the injury, Smith was the Comeback Kid. He made a comeback after being badly mismanaged by 49ers management and Mike Singletary to lead the 49ers to within one game of the Super Bowl in 2011, losing the conference championship on two fumbled punt returns.
He made another comeback after he lost his starting job to Colin Kapernick the following season despite a win-loss record of 6-2-1. After his demotion and trade to the Chiefs, a perennial loser at the time, Smith led his new team to 50 wins in 76 starts in five seasons.
He made another comeback when the Chiefs decided to make Patrick Mahomes their starter and traded Smith to Washington, 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.
Against all odds, he made yet another comeback from that injury in 2020. The team was 2-6 when he became the starter; he won five of six starts and put Washington in first place before he was sidelined by another injury.
Smith is the Comeback Player of 2020 and for all-time.