Alex Smith retires after comeback from gruesome leg injury

Alex Smith retires from the NFL after making an improbable comeback from a broken leg
Washington Football Team's Alex Smith plays during the first half of an NFL football game...
Washington Football Team's Alex Smith plays during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)(Derik Hamilton | AP)
Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 3:01 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 11:35 AM EDT
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He was hospitalized for almost a month and survived a life-threatening infection in addition to the operations. Smith spent the next year and a half rehabbing and was back at practice when Washington assembled for training camp last summer.

Smith’s first game action since the injury came Oct. 11 when Kyle Allen was injured, and he made his first start at Detroit on Nov. 15. He went 5-1 as the starter, including a victory at Philadelphia in Week 17 on a strained right calf that clinched the NFC East title for Washington.

“He accomplished the greatest comeback in professional sports history and was a huge part of our team’s success this past season,” owners Dan and Tanya Snyder said in a statement. “We witnessed every step of Alex’s comeback, and he personifies perseverance, strength and the will to never give up.”

The injury prevented Smith from playing against Tampa Bay in the wild-card round the next week, which Taylor Heinicke started and impressed enough to earn another contract.

Smith told GQ earlier this year that the organization didn’t expect him to play again. Coach Ron Rivera agreed with those comments, noting he was worried about Smith’s health.

“The biggest thing he and I talked about, really, was that there was really no roadmap to get us to where we were,” Rivera said last month. “He worked his butt off to put himself in a position to come back and play. ... It was always in the back of my head: ‘What if he gets hurt again? What if he hurts that leg, that specific leg?’ I don’t want to be the guy that put him back on the field to let him get hurt again.”

Washington released Smith in March and signed veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Smith initially expressed his intent to keep playing but went unsigned more than a month into free agency.

“I’m going to take a little time to enjoy a few of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what’s coming for them in the backyard,” he said.

In a statement Monday, Rivera called Smith an inspiration and “the ultimate professional and one of the finest leaders” he has ever coached.

A self-professed “skinny, no-name recruit,” Smith was the No. 1 overall pick out of Utah in 2005 and played 14 seasons for San Francisco, Kansas City and Washington. He threw for 35,650 yards and 199 touchdowns in 174 regular-season games and played in seven playoff games.

“Football wouldn’t let me give up because, no, this isn’t just a game,” Smith said. “It’s about how hard and how far you can push yourself. It’s about the bond between those 53 guys in the locker room and everybody else in the organization. It’s about fully committing yourself to something bigger.”

Super Bowl winner and 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes said Smith “really helped me be the quarterback I am today.” Kansas City coach Andy Reid called Smith one of his all-time favorite players.

San Francisco CEO Jed York said, “Alex represented our franchise with class both on and off the field, and his contributions to the 49ers organization will be remembered forever.”


AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow and Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed.


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