The return of Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith to the NFL is either a heartwarming tale of perseverance or a cautionary tale in the making about self-destructive obsession, or both. In any case, its telling will have to pause for a week, as Smith has been ruled out of Washington's upcoming game Sunday due to a right leg injury that definitely is absolutely not related at all to the fact that that leg nearly required amputation just over two years ago.
Every time a sideline camera zooms in on Smith's stems, I cannot help but cringe. The man's right leg is a sheath of reconstructed meat hiding artificial scaffolding that was designed primarily to allow Smith to have a foot and walk around on it, and not necessarily with the violence of professional football foremost in its design. Watching him dodge humongous pass-rushers every Sunday, it's very hard not to expect the leg to blast apart at any moment. Scenes like this one, from Washington's Week 13 game against the Steelers, are enough to give anyone the shakes:
Yes, Smith is upright in that photo, and yes, that is his left leg. Still, I can't escape the feeling that someone needs to lift Smith off the ground and gently carry him as far away from a football field as possible, while there is still time. This impression was not helped in Week 14, when Smith was photographed on the sideline with a huge cast-like tube being wrapped around that rebuilt right leg:
Viewers were told that this tube was a heating pad, used to treat leg cramps. Smith was having a shitty game (8-of-19 for only 57 yards passing), and was replaced late in the first half by Dwayne Haskins, who led one scoring drive in six tries but benefited from two WFT defensive touchdowns as they secured the 23-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers
Smith described the cramps as "a freak thing" that was "not at all" related to the leg explosion. But the cramps sound very painful, and like the kind of thing that should be handled with extra care in the case of someone whose relevant flesh has undergone as much mangling as Smith's:
“It was something that [was] very minor last week. I practiced and felt good on it all week. For me, it was there a little bit but certainly not inhibiting me at all. And then in the game it quickly got worse, to the point where it was really, really affecting me and my ability dropping back and being able to decelerate and push off. I felt like it was affecting me a ton, especially those last several drives, really kind of battling with that mentally, with how much it was affecting me and limiting me out there.”Alex Smith, via The Washington Post
Smith will have a chance to rest up and see if the cramps go away, and WFT fans will have a chance to watch their home team play without fretting over whether one or the other or both of the starting quarterback's legs will suddenly splinter like matchsticks.