After seventeen surgeries and nearly two years away from the game, quarterback Alex Smith overcame a nearly-career-ending leg injury to rejoin the Washington Football Team last season. In his first one-on-one interview since the team ended its season in the first round of the playoffs, Smith sat down with 60 Minutes' Norah O'Donnell to discuss his life-threatening injury, months of rehab, and unlikely return to the. 60 Minutes also talked with Smith's wife, Elizabeth, on Smith's recovery process and decision to go back out onto the field once he was medically cleared.
Alex Smith's road back to professional football was long and uncertain. After undergoing 17 surgeries and thousands of hours of physical therapy, Smith ran back out onto the field for the first time in October of 2020. But he says the decision to do so wasn't easy.
"I think there were a lot of people outside of the medical experts that didn't agree with it, didn't understand it," Smith said. "Why would I be doing this at my age, and this point in life, and everything I'd been through."
Alex Smith's wife, Elizabeth, was one such person.
"Early on I was supportive. I realized that he needed something to work towards," Elizabeth told 60 Minutes Overtime. "And I know that football is his life. So why not let him pursue that? Never thinking in a million years that we would actually be on that front doorstep in making that decision…."
Smith's team of doctors ended up clearing him to play, leading the couple to have a "long, honest, weight-out-your-options conversation" that Elizabeth never thought they would have to have.
"It took a lot of time… but in the end, I realized that it was worth it to Alex," Elizabeth Smith explained. "I never wanted him to have any regret."
Smith's first game back was in October of 2020, and the quarterback explained the range of emotions he felt as more anxiety-inducing than his first game as an NFL rookie.
"Butterflies, energy, you know going out there, certainly some anxiety…. just because of all the unknowns and what we've been through and the ramifications," Smith says.
Three plays into his first game back, Smith was sacked. It was the first major, on-the-field test of his surgically reconstructed and rehabbed right leg.
"Part of it was a blur, but I remember when he took that first hit...I mean you stand up, you're at the edge of your seat, and he gets right back up and he has a huge smile on his face," Elizabeth said. "I'm like 'why're you smiling right now?' And it was like he knew...he knew in that moment, 'I can do this.'"
Editor's note: On April 19th, Alex Smith made the difficult decision to retire from the NFL, announcing his decision on Instagram. This season he plans to work as a football analyst for ESPN.
The video above was originally published on January 17, 2021.