Is there any athlete anywhere who has been kicked around, discarded, dumped, replaced, beat up and underappreciated more than Alex Smith? And he just keeps coming back for more.
Four weeks almost to the day after he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year he was released by the Washington Football Team (hereafter referred to as the WFTs, their new unofficial nickname). Thanks for the blood and guts, now out you go.
He’s still shopping for a team.
OK, he was appreciated for a moment (the award), but to earn it he had to get his leg broken in half and almost die, then step back on the field at his own peril. Even then, he wasn’t a unanimous selection for the comeback honor. Someone voted for Ben Roethlisberger, who had to come back from — what was it, a chipped toenail?
So here he is, unemployed Mr. Comeback, the guy with a sign on his back that says “kick me.”
Someone will sign him. Maybe. But he’ll be kicked to the curb soon thereafter, if history offers any clues.
It wasn’t until after he had won the award we learned that the WFTs hadn’t wanted him on the team last season. After both the tibia and fibula were broken and ripped through the skin during a game in 2018, after he nearly lost his leg and his life due to infection, after undergoing 17 surgeries and skin grafts to repair the injury, after spending the better part of two years clawing his way back to the field, the WFTs made it clear he wasn’t wanted.
“It wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years,” Smith told GQ magazine. “… They didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance. Mind you, it was a whole (new coaching staff). They came in, I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability. Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”
This is the way his entire professional career has played out, rising and falling and rising again and falling again, each time starting again. He’s made more comebacks than Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods combined. It’s just that only one of them was formally recognized.
At Utah, he rose to become the No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft. He fell the next few years as the 49ers gave a clinic in how not to apprentice a developing quarterback. He had six offensive coordinators in six years. He was moved in and out of the lineup. Coaches embarrassed him and undercut his confidence. They questioned his toughness, his manhood. They publicly questioned whether a shoulder injury was real (it would require surgery to repair). They threatened to cut him.
Then he rose under the leadership of new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Only a pair of fumbled punt returns kept Smith and Harbaugh from taking the 13-3 Niners to the Super Bowl. A year later, the 49ers were 6-2 and leading their division. Smith was among the league leaders in passing. Then he fell again. He suffered a concussion, and when he was healthy enough to play a couple of weeks later, Colin Kaepernick, his backup, was retained as the starter and the Niners went to the Super Bowl.
In the offseason, Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and history repeated itself. He rose again. He took the Chiefs to the playoffs four times in five seasons and in 2018, the Chiefs finished first in their division with Smith ranked among league passing leaders. But the Chiefs had drafted his replacement, Patrick Mahomes, a year earlier; in the offseason, Smith was traded to the lowly WFTs. For the second time, Smith’s former backup took his old team to the Super Bowl, this time Mahomes leading the Chiefs to the championship.
Smith won six of his first 10 games with the WFTs — he was rising again — but then came that horrific injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season and the entire 2019 season.
As everyone knows, against all odds, he rose again, coming back 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.
And now he has been knocked down again. The WFTs released him, at the age of 36.
Only time will tell if he makes yet another comeback.