Doug Smith was too choked up to speak Sunday when his son, Alex, sidelined for nearly two years with a catastrophic leg injury, took the field to play quarterback for the Washington Football Team.
“I went into today thinking, 'I’m glad he’s back in uniform, and maybe got a few reps this past week,’ ” the elder Smith said from his home in San Diego. “In your mind you’re thinking, 'Yeah, he’s not going to get on the field today.’ And then it happens.”
Alex Smith, 36, took the field in place of the injured Kyle Allen and played the entire second half of a 30-10 loss to the Rams. It was the first time he had played since Nov. 18, 2018, when he suffered gruesome spiral and compound fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg.
Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, underwent 17 surgeries after the injury and was in danger of having his leg amputated. He rehabbed the entire 2019 season, and was cleared to resume football activity in July.
“You certainly aren’t by any means hoping that somebody gets hurt so he can get on the field,” Doug Smith said. “In this case, it happened. As I communicated to him yesterday, what an accomplishment to be on the team, active, ready to go on the field. I said to him, `I sure hope you remember how to put your game pants on.’
“He said, 'I kind of feel like a rookie.’ ”
The numbers reflected that rust to a degree — nine of 17 for 37 yards and sacked six times — but Washington’s offensive line is in shambles, and the Rams put on a defensive clinic.
Smith completed a short pass on his first snap, but was sacked by Aaron Donald two plays later.
“I’ve been waiting on that for a long time,” he told reporters of absorbing his first hit. “The first one felt really good. It’s nice to know you’re fine, and nice to kind of knock the cobwebs off so to speak.”
For his father, the final score didn’t dampen the magnitude of the moment.
“Tremendous pride in his effort and desire and work,” said Doug Smith, who retired in 2011 after 21 years as principal at Helix High in La Mesa, his son’s alma mater. “This is something he wanted and thought he could do, was going to put the time in to try to get there.
“For your kids, you’re there to try to support them. If he’d have come away and said, 'I’m never going to play again,’ we would have supported that too.”
Pam and Doug Smith were watching from home, along with their daughter Abbey, her husband and three granddaughters.
Families of the players were allowed to attend the game, so Smith’s wife, Elizabeth, was there with their three children, as was Smith’s other sister, MacKenzie, and her husband.
Doug Smith said it worked out better that he didn’t have any inkling his son would play.
“Slept real well [Saturday] night,” he said. “No problems. Pretty relaxed. And then all of a sudden your whole body physically changes in an instant. It truly happened.”
Did he tear up when his son took the field?
“Pretty much all of us here did,” he said.
Sometimes we raise our kids. Sometimes our kids raise us.
“When we were raising our kids, I used to give them all kinds of heck about work ethic. 'You guys don’t know what work ethic is,' "Doug said. “Of course, I walked 10 miles to school and all of those exaggerated stories. Those 'If you just worked as hard as me, you might get somewhere’ kinds of stories.
“But to see what he’s done, I certainly couldn’t have done that. There’s no way. I couldn’t have persevered and worked that hard to have done that. It’s a mental thing and a physical thing, both. He certainly showed me what it truly means to work hard and be committed.”
Farmer reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.