In January of 2016, then Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a gruesome injury. As a result, Smith missed his entire rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys. He was still drafted relatively high (second round, No. 34 overall), but would have likely been selected in the top five had the injury not occurred.
So, does Smith regret not skipping the bowl game that had no championship implications? Seeing the limited backlash (in terms of where they were drafted) that Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Jabrill Peppers faced a year later, would Smith still have played in the Fiesta Bowl?
“Those freak types of accidents, injuries, they happen,” Smith said on the Doomsday Podcast with Ed Werder and Matt Mosley, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. “But you don’t go in the game thinking, ‘Oh man I’m going to get hurt.’ That was my decision, and I love it. And I wouldn’t change it. If I knew that I was going to get hurt and wasn’t going to be a top-five pick again, I would have literally played in that game again because of my teammates and how much Notre Dame means to me.”
Smith also noted that Ohio State (Notre Dame’s opponent) was his second choice and where his brother, Rod Smith, played college ball.
This is really an issue that doesn’t yield right or wrong answers.
From one respect, Smith’s loyalty is laudable. If his Fighting Irish teammates meant that much to him, then playing was the right call. Fortunately, it worked out relatively well for Smith. Some players fall a lot further than just one round after an injury.
If you’re a fan of a team and one of its best players just decides to not play in a bowl game, being upset is a natural response. But when thinking about it, it’s also hard to really criticize those players who do choose to sit out. Non championship bowl games are nothing more than glorified exhibitions. It’s the cold reality of the modern NCAA climate.
It’s not an argument that we’re done with, either. Expect this to continue to be an issue for years to come.