The NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award has all but been decided. Following an injury-riddled 2019 season that saw him play only eight of sixteen games for the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton has found a new life up in New England. Starting three games under center so far this season for Bill Belichek’s Patriots, Newton has led the team to a 2-1 record, falling only to the undefeated Seattle Seahawks. Despite a COVID-19 diagnosis keeping him out of a week four matchup with the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs, Newton has revived what was thought to be a dead team. Provided he can continue playing like he has been after a week off, there is no one close to competing with him for the award.
But there really should be. On Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, following an injury to starting quarterback Kyle Allen, quarterback Alex Smith took the field for the Washington Football Team. Despite the 36-year-old being the 2005 number one overall pick out of the University of Utah, Smith led a generally unproductive offense, completing just 9/17 passes for 37 yards in a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
However, despite an unremarkable outing, this game marked an extraordinary return to football for Smith. Smith had not played a game since going down with a gruesome leg injury in 2018, an event that triggered an almost two-year saga of pain and heartache for the QB and his family.
After leading the then Washington Redskins to a 6-3 record on the season, on Nov. 18, 2018, Smith went down with a catastrophic injury to his leg, following a sack by Houston Texans safety Kareem Jackson. Smith was rushed into surgery, where it was revealed that he had suffered a spiral and compound fracture to both his tibia and fibula in his right leg. Even without fully grasping what that means medically, I think we can all agree that just sounds downright painful. However, despite almost immediate medical attention, the first operation did not fully fix the injury. Smith had to go under the knife 17 times over two years before the injury could be allowed to heal itself, at one point even contracting an infection so extreme there were serious talks of amputating his leg. Even after recovering, there still existed significant concerns surrounding his ability to not just play football, but simply walk.
However, despite the adversity, Smith battled his way back, going through a long and arduous course of physical therapy before finally working his way back onto a football field.
Smith deserves recognition for his efforts. He represents both the courage and resilience that it takes to play this game we love. It is time, NFL. Just give him the damn award, regardless of how Newton’s performances this year.