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AUSTIN FACER: Alex Smith is my hero

The careers of NFL quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers have always been intertwined. The two QBs were the first two signal callers taken in the 2005 NFL Draft, with Smith going first overall to the San Francisco 49ers and Rodgers going 24th overall to the Green Bay Packers.

As their NFL timelines have unfolded, there has been frequent debate that their selection order should have been swapped. The latest chapter in their frequently intersecting paths was written Saturday night during the NFL Honors awards show.

In the virtually held ceremony, both Smith and Rodgers received some prestigious hardware. Rodgers earned his third NFL MVP award after a monster season in which he threw for 4,299 yards with 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions. By comparison, Smith’s statistics from this last season were quite pedestrian with just 1,582 yards to go along with six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Rodgers played and started in all 16 regular season games, while Smith appeared in just eight games, making six starts.

Despite the average, or even below-average stats, Smith was rightfully named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

It’s not often that the accomplishments in an MVP season are overshadowed by another player’s achievements, but in this case, Smith’s 2020 campaign is far more meaningful than Rodger’s. Many pundits and fans think the Comeback Player of the Year Award should be named after the former University of Utah great.

Considering what Smith overcame and the character he showed along the way back to the gridiron, it would be more than appropriate.

It wasn’t until Week 5 that Smith found the field for the Washington Football Team in 2020. When he finally came in for the injured Kyle Allen, it marked 693 days since a horrific leg injury had nearly ended Smith’s career and life.

Remember what happened? It was Week 8 of the 2018 season. The then-Redskins were playing the Houston Texans at home. Smith was sacked by Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, his leg twisting awkwardly and quite grossly on the way down. Trainers rushed the field, put Smith’s leg in an air cast and whisked him off the field. It was later revealed that Smith had suffered a spiral and compound fracture to the tibia and fibula in his right leg. Doctors compared the extent of the injury to something more often seen on an actual battlefield.

What followed was a series of life-threating infections and many, many surgeries for Smith. The former Heisman Trophy finalist almost died as a result of his injury. Amputation was on the table as well.

Despite the setbacks and enormous challenges, Smith was determined to make it back to the NFL, with the goal of setting a courageous example for his children in mind.

Somehow, some way, he did it. For the full story, check out ESPN’s Project 11, it’s really good.

I remember watching the emotions of many fans and reports shown on social media when Smith made his return to football. Many called it the moment of the year, others expressed that they had shed tears. I know I did. It made me even more proud of some of my prized collections in the Facer Mancave, an autographed Utah mini-helmet signed by Smith and Urban Meyer. I’ll treasure that for the rest of my life.

Life is really, really hard for a lot of people. Most of us don’t have to worry about the possibility of losing a leg. It would have been really easy for Smith to hang up the cleats after recovering from a brutal injury that almost cost him his life and functionality. Instead, he decided to show his children — and the rest of the world — the power of determination and perseverance. The award Smith won this season should be adorned with his name for the rest of time. That’s how important the lesson Smith taught us is. I know I have been greatly inspired by the guy I cheered for very loudly during the Utes’ magical 2004 season.

If the NFL were to hold a re-draft of the 2005 rookie selection show, there’s no question that Rodgers would be taken first overall, ahead of Smith. As one of only six players to win the MVP award thrice, Rodgers, who also has a Super Bowl ring in his collection, has a playing resume that dwarfs Smith’s. No doubt about it.

However, Alex Smith, who will likely never win the MVP award or a Super Bowl, is my hero. Of course, I’m biased as a Utahn and a Utah grad, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way about him. What he accomplished since that fateful day in 2018 to the time he stepped back on the field, misshaped leg and all, should be studied and celebrated forever.

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