It couldn't be real, could it? A starting NFL quarterback heading into a pivotal third season got sucker punched by his own teammate and broke his jaw? What reality show is this? Incredible.
The fateful incident last Aug. 11 changed everything for Smith. His career in New York spiraled from offseason praise to a wired-shut jaw. He watched as Ryan Fitzpatrick set the franchise record for most touchdown passes in a single season. The bearded Harvard man took the starting gig and kept it, even after Smith's jaw healed.
Smith played in one game in injury relief last season. He spent the offseason as a pawn in the Jets contract dispute with Fitzpatrick. The coaching staff and front office praised Smith all spring and summer. When Fitzy returned on the eve of camp, Smith immediately returned to the backseat.
On the anniversary of that fateful punch, Smith spoke with ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. Smith still isn't over that day.
"Every day I'm pissed off until I get my job back," he said. "Until I'm a starting quarterback, I'm pissed off every day. That's my mentality, that's my competitive nature. I want to win so badly, deep inside of me. I'm not pissed off at anyone, but I do believe I'm a starting quarterback in this league, and I believe I can do great things."
The punch by IK Enemkpali was reportedly over money. But Smith didn't only take the punch to the jaw, his leadership and credibility were attacked and have never recovered.
"When I look back on this when I'm 40, 50 years old, I'll ask myself, 'What time in my life made me a man?' I think this was that time in my life," he told Cimini. "It was so easy to say, 'Hey, this is not my fault. I'm the victim here, and this guy should be going to jail.' Instead, I manned up. I owned it. I took responsibility for whatever actions I had in that altercation, and I chose to let that fuel me to become a better man and a better player."
A free agent after this season, Smith's days in New York appear numbered. With a scarcity of quarterbacks on the market, the 25-year-old will certainly get another chance to re-write his story.
"If you look at the history of great quarterbacks, from Joe Montana being picked late to Tom Brady being picked late to Steve Young and what he faced in his early years to Kurt Warner ... I mean, all those guys -- Troy Aikman -- struggled in the beginning," Smith said. "But somehow, they continued to press on and got better."
Whether Smith follows those footsteps or gets punched again by the cruelties of NFL reality is a story yet to pass.