When Alex Smith takes the field on Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys, he’ll be playing in the second Thanksgiving Day game of his career.
When Smith does trot onto the turf at JerryWorld, it'll be hard for the quarterback to forget where he was on the holiday just two years prior, and just how far he's come since that moment.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2018, Smith suffered a compound fracture in his right leg against the Houston Texans. He would have surgery on the break shortly after, and at first, the recovery began to go smoothly.
Smith was still in the hospital a couple of days after the procedure for typical post-operation check-ups. With Washington traveling to Dallas for their Thanksgiving game that Wednesday, Smith was hoping to get discharged from the hospital so he could spend the holiday at home with his family.
That night before Thanksgiving in 2018, though, is one that changed his life forever, the quarterback told NBC Sports' Peter King.
"I was hoping to be discharged the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I had my surgery, it had gone well they said," Smith said. "Our team doctor, Dr. West, who had left with the team that same Wednesday, she had swung by right before the team had left to see me. That's when I was kind of still in some pain and had a very mild fever.
"She really talked me into staying one more night," Smith continued. "For her, it was like 'What's the rush? Just stay one more night. Why not? You can go home in the morning.'"
Dr. West was able to talk Smith into staying one more night at the hospital, and that decision could have ultimately saved Smith's life.
"That night, when things got bad when my blood pressure dropped and fever spiked and really lost consciousness," Smith said. "That's when they realized I had a serious infection."
The quarterback was rushed into emergency surgery that night, one he said he doesn't recall much of because everything was a "fog." The infection kept spreading, and Smith's doctors had to continue to operate on the quarterback every day, then every other day, for nearly two weeks to get it under control.
In the end, Smith had 17 total surgeries to control the infection. At times, the doctors thought he might need to have his leg amputated.
Smith's road to recovery is nothing short of remarkable. Two years later, not only can Smith walk again, but he's the starting quarterback of an NFL team, and playing well.
The quarterback's goal following the injury was always to play football again, but even he probably couldn't have predicted he'd have such a big role like the one he has now. He explained as much in a recent interview with the Washington Football Talk podcast ahead of his first start this season (listen below).
So, when Smith does take the field on Thanksgiving for Washington on Thursday, it'll make sense if he's a little emotional. Every year, the holiday will serve as another reminder of everything he went through following his devastating injury.
"Thanksgiving two years ago is when my life forever changed," Smith said.