The Devastating Story Behind NFL Star Alex Smith's Right Leg

NFL quarterback Alex Smith enjoyed a relatively easygoing career until he suffered a life-threatening injury. The Washington native started his football career in high school, leading his team, the Helix Highlanders, to back-to-back state titles. After earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Utah, Smith made it to the NFL, with the San Francisco 49ers naming him the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. "The week leading up I had a good idea just based off of different scenarios," he told ESPN of his selection. "Back then they were trying to negotiate those contracts before the draft and the way that was going I felt good about it the week leading up."

With the San Francisco 49ers, Smith enjoyed a successful career, playing with the team for eight seasons before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in February 2013. "There was no doubt in my mind that this is where I wanted to be; it wasn't close. Everything pointed here for me," Smith said of his trade, according to Bleacher Report. Smith would go on to play with the Chiefs for five seasons. In 2018, Smith was traded yet again, this time to the then-Washington Redskins where he would later sign a $94 million extension contract, as Sports Illustrated noted. However, only a few months later, Smith faced a career setback after suffering a life-threatening leg injury that took him off the field.

Alex Smith suffered a compound fracture

During a November 2018 match against the Houston Texans, Alex Smith suffered a spiral and compound fracture to his tibia and fibula in his right leg after he was tackled by the duo of Kareem Jackson and J.J Watt. "I remember a really funny feeling in my leg," Smith recalled in a 2021 interview with GQ. "It wasn't like I knew it was broken immediately. It went fuzzy. That's what it felt like. And then it really was the visual when I looked down and could see, you know, that my leg obviously wasn't straight anymore that told me that I had broken it."

Smith subsequently underwent surgery but soon faced another major concern. Due to his injury being an open wound, Smith suffered an infection and was subsequently diagnosed with sepsis, a condition that sometimes arises when the body tries to fight off infections. Things, however, seemingly took a turn for the worse when Smith learned he could lose his leg. "[The] next thing I remember is waking up several weeks later faced with the decision of amputation or limb salvage at that point," he told ESPN. The NFL star, however, chose to save his leg, opting instead for multiple surgeries. In the end, Smith underwent 17 surgeries over the course of several months. But while this injury posed to end his NFL career, Smith did not give up without a fight.

Smith's shocking return to the league

Nearly two years after his injury, Alex Smith made a surprise return to the NFL in October 2020 when his team, then known as the Washington Football Team, played against the Los Angeles Rams. "It was great to be out there, the feeling, the range of emotions, the good and the bad," Smith told ESPN. "It's why I fought so hard to come back. Sometimes you can take it for granted. Certainly, to be away from it for a couple years, I've missed it." Smith would subsequently help lead Washington to a division title, the team's first since 2015.

Unsurprisingly, Smith's return to the field has since been dubbed as one of the greatest comebacks in NFL and sports history. In 2020, he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after a good season, per Sports Illustrated. However, despite the buzz around his return, Smith announced his retirement in April 2021, marking the end of his 16-year professional career. "I'm going to take a little time to enjoy a few walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what's coming for them in the backyard," he said in a heartwarming video shared on Instagram.

Football was however not the end of the road for Smith, as the NFL quarterback went on to join ESPN as an analyst following his retirement. "I'm kind of excited again with ESPN to do a lot of different things and mixing it up and kind of figuring that out," Smith admitted at the time (via The Washington Post).