elizabeth smith/ instagram; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic Trophy made from Alex Smith's leg brace
Alex Smith is moving forward the way only a champion can: with a trophy!
The Washington Football Team quarterback, 36, returned to the field this season for the first time since 2018, when he suffered a life-threatening leg injury. And before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, his wife, Elizabeth, shared a heartfelt message — and a photo of a creative way they've put her husband's leg brace to good use.
"Waiting for this game and I'm a nervous wreck. I look up at our bookshelves as a reminder of where we have been and the hard work to get to this moment," Elizabeth wrote, sharing a photo of the Vince Lombardi Trophy-style structure created by metal artist Thomas Patsis.
"No matter the outcome, Alex has already won. He has beat the largest challenge life has thrown our way. I am incredibly proud and will be cheering loud. Let's go Washington!" she added. (Washington ended up beating the Eagles 20-14 in Sunday's game, securing the team its first NFC East title in five years.)
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elizabeth smith/ instagram Alex Smith's leg brace
Smith shattered two bones in his lower leg as a result of being sacked by two defensive players during a game against the Houston Texans on Dec. 3, 2018. He was rushed to an operating room where surgeons pieced his tibia and fibula back together with 29 screws and two metal plates. But what doctors didn’t know was that the splintered bones tore through the side of his leg, allowing bacteria from the field's dirt to enter the wound.
Two days later, doctors were suddenly battling to save his life and talking about amputating Smith's rapidly blackening leg before the necrotizing fasciitis infection continued spreading through his body and killed him.
"I'm laying there wondering, 'How does this happen?' " Smith told PEOPLE in November. "I was just playing in a football game and all of a sudden I might be losing my leg. And I'm thinking, 'What's my life going to be like without a leg?' "
But the veteran athlete and married father of three refused to give up, enduring 17 surgeries including muscle and skin grafts to salvage his leg, before staging one of the most remarkable comebacks in NFL history when he returned to the field this October.
G Flume/Getty Alex Smith returns to the field on Oct. 11, 2020
RELATED VIDEO: How NFL Quarterback Alex Smith Staged the Greatest Comeback of His Career After an Almost Deadly Injury
How NFL Quarterback Alex Smith Staged the Greatest Comeback of His Career After an Almost Deadly Injury
Alex and his wife Liz open up about the injury that almost cost him his life
Now, Smith — who was named the team's starting quarterback on Nov. 15 — is on a quest to spread the message about what he calls "the power of attitude" and how finding the will to stay positive helped fuel his against-all-odds return to professional football.
"I don't think you totally know how resilient you are until you get tested and this was definitely the biggest test I've had in my life," said the athlete, who created a line of T-shirts to benefit the Center for the Intrepid, a San Antonio-based military medical facility instrumental in his physical rehab.
Smith added, "There are so many things you can't control, but every single day you wake up you have the power to control your attitude and how you approach the things ahead of you. That's something I focused on every day."
Washington will next square off against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST, in the first round of the NFL playoffs.