When I visited the Washington Redskins’ training camp last July, one moment stood out in such a way that I haven’t been able to shake it.
It occurred after a morning practice, during a one-on-one interview with Jay Gruden. Now, Gruden was only weeks away from being fired, so much of the talk at camp centered on the hot seat that had been placed under the head coach. There was lots of chatter about the team’s first-round pick, quarterback Dwayne Haskins, and when he’d be ready to take over. Lost in all this was much mention of the team’s previous starting quarterback, Alex Smith. The football world had largely moved on from him, a stark contrast from the previous year when Smith, acquired in January 2018 from the Kansas City Chiefs, was being hailed as the veteran leader the routinely dysfunctional organization sorely needed.
Smith lived up to that billing. His steady hand helped lead Washington to a 6-3 record, best in the NFC East. Then came a Nov. 18 home game against the Houston Texans, an outing that changed his life forever. Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury while being sacked — his bone even pierced his skin — and he missed the rest of the season as the Redskins plummeted without their leader.
The injury’s severity – the infection, the multiple surgeries, the threat to the 35-year-old’s career – produced a steady stream of news. Yet, Smith repeatedly expressed his desire to come back and play.