When Dak Prescott returns to the football field for the first time since Oct. 11, 2020 for the Thursday night NFL season opener against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, it'll mark the completion of a comeback from countless hours of rehabilitation almost 11 months since that fateful scramble.
Prescott may not have accepted the grueling recovery process as easily, though, had it not been for another quarterback making his inspiring return on the very same day.
"It was huge," Prescott told NBC Sports' Maria Taylor regarding former Washington QB Alex Smith, who was called into action in Week 4 against the Rams after Kyle Allen went down. "I was in the locker room watching him take the field on Andy Dalton's iPad in the same game I went and got hurt in. So for later that night and when I woke up from surgery to know that I had just watched somebody full circle come back from something that was actually way worse than what mine was because of the infection, was somebody has already done it."
Prescott has mentioned his appreciation for the inspiration Smith provided before, including just days after signing his mega four-year, $160-million deal back in March. Fast forward to the day when Prescott makes his triumphant return under center in Tampa Bay after not playing a snap in the preseason. Pundits questioned his readiness for Dallas' Week 1 bout and Prescott remains grateful for the path Smith paved.
"So it just made the process and the faith that much more attainable," Prescott said. "Alex Smith has already done, did it with a great attitude and just know that I can get through it as well."
Of course, an infection in Smith's open wound made his recovery process much more taxing than Prescott's. It took 17 surgeries and 23 months until Smith could be ready to brace himself for an incoming Aaron Donald sack.
For Prescott, who couldn't feel any sensation in his toes for long stretches at the beginning of his recovery, Smith's incredible comeback served as not only the necessary motivation but also gave him no excuse that he couldn't do the same with his season-ending injury.
Smith went 5-1 as a starter and helped the Burgundy and Gold clinch the NFC East last season. Prescott feels the pressure to have a similarly positive impact.
"I feel that every day because I put it on myself. I wake up every day and that's one of the first things that goes through my mind is, 'what can this team accomplish? And how can we accomplish that?'" Prescott said. "We know it starts off with division champions, and from there we get into the tournament and anything can happen. That's the main goal and that's what this team focuses on."