Recently retired Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith, who rebounded from a severe leg injury suffered in 2018 that sidelined him until the 2020 season when he worked his way back into the starting lineup, was selected as the 2021 George Halas Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Smith, the 53rd Halas Award winner, is the third member of the Washington franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA, joining Billy Kilmer (1976) and Pat Fischer (1978),
Other 2021 nominees for the Halas Award were Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera and New England Patriots running back James White.
The Halas Award is given to an NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. The award is named for Halas, a charter member (1963) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was associated with the Chicago Bears and NFL from their inception in 1920 until his death in 1983 as an owner, manager, player and promoter. Halas won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as a coach.
The Halas Award is one of the two oldest awards presented by the PFWA, along with the Career Achievement Award, presented to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage.
Smith started the first 10 games of the 2018 season and completed 205 of 338 passes for 2,180 yards with 10 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In a game against Houston on November 18, 2018, Smith suffered a spiral fracture in his right leg when he was tackled. A severe infection took hold after he was taken to the hospital for surgery, which endangered his life. He went through 17 surgeries over a nine-month period to save, and later repair, his leg. He endured an arduous physical therapy regimen as he recovered and made a goal to return to the NFL.
Smith returned to Washington’s roster for the club’s 2020 training camp and finally got back on the field vs. the Rams on October 11, completing 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards. He replaced an injured Kyle Allen in the November 8 game vs. the Giants and threw for 325 yards and a touchdown. The next week, he started his first game since 2018 on November 15 at Detroit. He completed 38 of 55 passes for 390 yards against the Lions – all career highs. He played eight games with six starts in 2020, and he completed 168 of 252 passes (66.7 completion percentage) for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns.
Smith announced his retirement from pro football on April 19, 2021 via an Instagram video.
In his retirement video, Smith said, “Two years ago, I was stuck in a wheelchair, staring down at my mangled leg, wondering if I’d ever be able to go on a walk with my wife again or play games with my kids in the yard. Putting my helmet back on was the farthest thing from my mind. … But then, someone did something that changed my recovery completely. He put a football back in my hands. I don’t know what it was, but all of a sudden, I felt stronger, more driven, and what once seemed impossible began to come into focus. The truth is, over the course of my life, that’s what this game has done for me.
“And then, on a routine play, I almost lost everything. But football wouldn’t let me give up because, no, this isn’t just a game. It’s not just what happens between those white lines on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about the challenges and the commitment they require. It’s about how hard and how far you can push yourself. It’s about the bond with those 53 guys in the locker room and everybody else in the organization. It’s about fully committing yourself to something bigger. … Because even though I have plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I’ve got, I can’t wait to see what else is possible.”
ABOUT THE PFWA: In its 58th season in 2021, the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily. Lindsay Jones of The Athletic is the PFWA president for the 2021-22 seasons and the organization’s 30th president. Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated is the PFWA’s first vice-president, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News is the second vice-president and Mike Sando of The Athletic is the secretary-treasurer. At-large board members include USA Today’s Mike Jones, ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, The Athletic’s Dan Pompei and ProFootballTalk.com’s Charean Williams. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
GEORGE HALAS AWARD WINNERS (To the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed) Year indicates when award was presented for previous season: 1969 – Joe Namath (New York Jets); 1970 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears); 1971 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints); 1972 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers); 1973 – Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons); 1974 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears); 1975 – Rocky Bleier (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1976 – Billy Kilmer (Washington Redskins); 1977 – Tom DeLeone (Cleveland Browns); 1978 – Pat Fischer (Washington Redskins); 1979 – Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts); 1980 – Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys); 1981 – Rolf Benirschke (San Diego Chargers); 1982 – Joe Klecko (New York Jets); 1983 – Eddie Lee Ivery (Green Bay Packers); 1984 – Ted Hendricks (Los Angeles Raiders); 1985 – John Stallworth (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1986 – Gary Jeter (Los Angeles Rams); 1987 – William Andrews (Atlanta Falcons); 1988 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1989 – Karl Nelson (New York Giants); 1990 – Tim Krumrie (Cincinnati Bengals); 1991 – Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears); 1992 – Mike Utley (Detroit Lions); 1993 – Mark Bavaro (Cleveland Browns); 1994 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1995 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins); 1996 – Larry Brown (Oakland Raiders); 1997 – Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts); 1998 – Mark Schlereth (Denver Broncos); 1999 – Dan Reeves (Atlanta Falcons); 2000 – Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers); 2001 – Kerry Collins (New York Giants); 2002 – Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers); 2003 – Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins); 2004 – Sam Mills (Carolina Panthers); 2005 – Mark Fields (Carolina Panthers); 2006 – Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts); 2007 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); 2008 – Kevin Everett (Buffalo Bills); 2009 – Matt Bryant (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 2010 – Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals); 2011 – Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee Titans); 2012 – Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); 2013 – Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts); 2014 – O.J. Brigance (Baltimore Ravens); 2015 – Steve Gleason (New Orleans Saints); 2016 – Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs); 2017 – David Quessenberry (Houston Texans); 2018 – Marquise Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers); 2019 – Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh Steelers); 2020 – Travis Frederick (Dallas Cowboys); 2021 – Alex Smith (Washington Football Team)