I never gave much thought to him. As far as I was concerned, he was just one more gifted college quarterback whose skillset or ability level did not translate to NFL success.
I admit it. I was wrong about Geno Smith. I am glad I was.
Building a Geno
Eugene Cyril “Geno” Smith III was born on October 10, 1990. He was called “Geno,” after his Grandfather, known as “Big Geno.”
Geno came into the world with a pedigree. His great-uncle, Danny Smith, was a record-breaking All-American hurdler at Florida State. His cousin Melvin Bratton was a star running back at the University of Miami in the 1980s. Bratton starred in the 1987 National Champion game between Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes and Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners. He suffered a knee injury in the game that may have cost him more than a million dollars in the NFL draft due to worries about the injury’s impact on his future.
Athleticism, and particularly football, are clearly in Geno’s genes.
Building a reputation
Geno went to the University of West Virginia on scholarship as a quarterback. He won the starting job in his sophomore year. He threw for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns with just seven interceptions that year. In his junior year, his Mountaineers routed the Clemson Tigers in the 2012 Orange Bowl, 70-33. Geno threw for 401 yards in the game, breaking Tom Brady’s Orange Bowl record of 396. He also became the Big East’s all-time single-season passer, with 4,379 yards that year. During his senior season, Smith passed for over 4,200 yards, 42 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
The kid who had been a 2x National Offensive Player of the Week, 3x Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, first-team All-Big East, and the 2012 Orange Bowl MVP was set for the NFL Draft.
At the NFL Combine, Geno Smith was noted for his strong arm and athleticism but was found lacking in accuracy. Most scouts and analysts thought he would be taken in the first round. He was not. EJ Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round in 2013. Geno fell to the second round. The New York Jets, who tried to trade up in the second round to get Geno and failed, found him still on the board when their pick was due. They selected him with the 39th pick overall.
For the Jets, Smith was named the starter and then replaced and benched a couple of times. Once, he was replaced by the refurbished Michael Vick. Another time, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, the forever journeyman QB who had flashes of brilliance in his career. In 2015, Geno had an altercation with a teammate, defensive end IK Enemkpali, over an unpaid debt. Geno suffered a fractured jaw and the assailant was released from the team. Fitzpatrick stepped in, played well, led the Jets to a 2-0 record during Geno’s recovery. So, the coach stuck with Fitz and sat Smith.
In 2016, Smith tore his ACL while filling in for Fitzpatrick. In 2017, he signed with the New York Giants as Eli Manning’s backup. Smith got a couple of starts when Manning was hurt but failed to distinguish himself.
In 2018, Geno moved on to LA to play for the Chargers. He played reliever there.
Smith signed with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019. He was now nothing more than a journeyman backup. As far as I know, no one expected much more than that of him. If you had to play him in a pinch, you could do worse. But you wouldn’t want him holding the keys to your franchise. Playing behind the venerable Russell Wilson, an NFL darling and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Smith mostly rode the pine, as they say.
Rebuilding a reputation
But then Wilson found himself at odds with the Seahawks and signed with the Denver Broncos to become their starting quarterback for the 2022-23 season. Geno Smith won the QB job in Seattle after competing with Drew Lock for the position. It looked to be a lost year for the Seahawks. But in week one, Smith outdueled Russell Wilson, of all people, and the Seahawks beat the Broncos. Geno later beat the Lions 48-45 by throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 49 yards and another TD. At this writing, after nine games, the Seahawks are 6-3 and Geno Smith is the 2022 Cinderella story and comeback kid all wrapped into one.
After that week-one win over the man he had backed up for three seasons, Smith was asked about his unexpected performance. This is what he said…
“They wrote me off. I didn’t write back, though. That’s the problem. I didn’t write back.”
Man, I love that!
How many times have you been written off? When did someone doubt or demean your value? Have you ever had to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and give it your all just one more time?
Making the connection
I have been there. I have been flat on my back – a few times, figuratively, and once, literally – and had to find or borrow the strength to get back up. In 1996, I lost my ministry and then myself. I scratched my way back to some level of self-respect, and along the way did everything from driving a taxicab and delivering pizza to selling automotive upholstery.
After being fired from my sales job by a business owner who said “pacific” when he meant “specific”, I landed a management job at Rent-A-Center. I hated it, to be honest. I felt like I was in a predatory business, overcharging too many folks for things they couldn’t afford in the first place. I was still licking my wounds, remembering what I had been and all I had lost.
Then, while repossessing a refrigerator from a third-story apartment, I ruptured a disc in my back. They replaced the disc with two tiny Titanium cages, grafted bone around them, put me in a back brace, and forced me to convalesce for months.
I had to get back on my feet again. The Rent-A-Center job was over. So, I spent another year licking my wounds, getting a little older and not much wiser, and writing a book. Then, I got my Texas teaching certificate, became a middle school teacher, then an adjuster, then a manager, then a vice president, and finally, a president.
Keeping it in perspective
I attended a funeral the other day and saw a pastor I only run into these days at funerals. This was the fourth funeral that I remember for sure where I have seen him over these 20+ years.
We always shake hands. Sometimes we hug. We once were peers and sort of like friends. We are still friendly.
I think maybe he thinks I am less. Probably he doesn’t, but it is a feeling I get when I am around him and certain others.
I do not know where he was when I could have used a friend and I don’t know how many times he could have used one and where was I?
None of that is worth saying, by him or me. We have each done what we could with what we had and sometimes we failed and sometimes we didn’t and that is how life goes.
I said, “See you next funeral.”
He chuckled. We shook on it.
I am not sure about this preacher, but I know a few of his friends wrote me off a long time ago.
I refused to write back.
No one gets to write me off but God and me. Same goes for you. Get up. Keep going. There’s more.
My name is Gene (“Geno” to some of my closest friends), and this is Wednesday Noon.