It’s difficult to find inspiring stories that honestly touch the heart these days.
You get it. There’s so much vitriol, especially with election day near.
But there’s a heck of an inspiring story in the Pacific Northwest.
One by way of Miami, Fla., and West “By God” Virginia.
His name is Eugene Cyril “Geno” Smith III. And he’s without question the best, most heartwarming NFL story this season.
Many of you know the story and understand. Yet I wonder how many realize what a great lesson he’s providing not only for our children but, hell, for ourselves.
Consider what’s happened.
You may recall the celebration when WVU landed Smith as a football recruit, thanks in large part to former Miramar High head coach and ex-Mountaineer player Damon Cogdell.
There’s the memory of Smith torching Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. (Trivia answer for you: Smith’s 401 passing yards broke Tom Brady’s Orange Bowl record of 396.) There was the stunning 45-of-51 passing day for 656 yards and eight touchdown passes in a 70-63 home win over Baylor. (I’ll never forget asking BU quarterback Nick Florence if he thinks he’ll ever forget the day.)
But WVU swooned in Smith’s senior season. (Remember the Pinstripe Bowl?) And questions began.
He waited in the NFL draft room through the first day and fired his agent. Finally, after being selected by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2013 draft, he began an extremely bumpy journey with that team.
He struggled in ‘13 as a starter after Mark Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury. Smith threw for 3,046 yards as a rookie, but with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
In 2014, there were incidents like a fine for yelling profanities at fans. He missed a team meeting to go to a movie theater in San Diego. (He said he was confused because of the time zone change.) Then, of course, his jaw was jacked by teammate IK Enemkpali in the locker room over a $600 unpaid debt.
Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Exit Smith.
For most NFL fans, that was it until this season. Heck, I remember a year or two back being surprised to find Smith was still in the NFL.
Yet, yes, he’d hung in there, spending time as the backup for the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers and, lately, the Seattle Seahawks before getting his chance.
He was like the Invisible Man embodied. Or not embodied. You know what I mean. Out of sight; out of mind.
Quietly, though, Smith has earned around $14 million as an NFL backup.
Until this season. Until Seattle coach Pete Carroll, after trading away Russell Wilson, handed the job to the now 32-year-old Smith.
It was a stroke of genius – at least to this point.
Check the NFL standings. Look at the West division. See the team on top? Yep, that’s Seattle at 5-3, fresh off a win over the then-6-1 New York Giants. The Seahawks have scored 210 points, more than any other team in the National Conference.
And Geno? He’s playing better as a starter in the NFL than he did as one in the old Big East.
Smith got steadily better in his days as a QB for WVU. As a starter his last few seasons in Morgantown his pass completion percentage went from 64.8 percent to 65.8 to 71.2.
This season after eight NFL games? Smith is completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 1,924 yards and 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions for a 107. 2 rating.
He’s No. 1 in pass completion percentage among ALL NFL quarterbacks.
His passer rating is only behind Tua Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes.
He has a higher touchdown to interception rate (4.33) than Mahomes and Tagovailoa. (He’s only behind Brady and Jalen Hurts.)
Understand that I didn’t feel sorry for Smith. He’s got $14 million in the bank and has been living the good, if quiet, life. Also, some of the reasons people soured on him were of his own making.
But, man, that he kept grinding. That he kept working and staying in shape and preparing.
Mostly that he kept BELIEVING in himself, knowing he could flourish if given the chance.
That’s what’s inspiring. That’s what each of us should store in our minds and hearts. That’s what we should point to and teach to our children.
The Invisible Man, it seems, is indeed embodied.
+ + +
Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.