Eleven days after Alex Smith made his celebrated return to football, his wife, Elizabeth, began planning a gift to commemorate his triumph.

Via Instagram, she messaged Tom Patsis, a 39-year-old artist in Brownsburg, Ind., some 15 miles outside Indianapolis, with a request. Patsis spent years as a fabricator for Don Schumacher Racing before parlaying his skill into art full-time. He turns unused car parts and scrap metal into custom trophies and unique gifts, typically for clients from the racing industry, such as NASCAR and Danica Patrick.

Smith’s request was a first, though. She asked Patsis to transform an instrumental part of her husband’s recovery from a leg injury into a piece of art — a reminder of his hard work and remarkable comeback.

Alex Smith suffered a compound leg fracture in 2018 and had 17 surgeries to repair the bones and clean out an infection that necrotized surrounding muscle. For much of the first year of his recovery, he wore a metal external fixator to stabilize his leg.

Patsis turned the fixator into a silhouette of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Images of the metal structure, posted to Elizabeth Smith’s Instagram account Sunday, went viral just before Alex took the field to help the Washington Football Team defeat the Philadelphia Eagles and clinch the NFC East title.

“No matter the outcome, Alex has already won,” she wrote in the caption. “He has beat the largest challenge life has thrown our way.”

Though most in the NFL world are well aware of Smith and his trying recovery, Patsis’s love is the racing industry.

“Just so you know, I know nothing about football,” Patsis said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had no idea who Alex Smith was. I kept calling him Andy Smith to my friends.”

Yet he gladly took on the project, spending days mulling Elizabeth’s initial idea to create a phoenix rising from ashes to symbolize Alex’s comeback.

“But I tried drawing the phoenix and I just couldn’t come around without adding more parts to it,” he said. “And I didn’t want to add sheet metal and other stuff. I wanted to keep it 100 percent from his brace. It would take away from it if only the wings were made out of the brace. And, simply, I don’t do birds very well.”

Patsis’s expertise is with trophies, and after reading up on Smith’s story and learning more about the game, he suggested another idea.

“To me, every player, from the first day of football to the last day, their goal is to step on the field and end up winning the Super Bowl. I think that’s pretty simple,” Patsis said. “Plus, after seeing his surgeries and all the stuff with his leg that he went through, the man is lucky enough to walk. To me, that’s a win. Then to be able to play football and do what you love again, that’s a super-type win.”

So Patsis sent Elizabeth Smith a sketch of a trophy made entirely of parts of the fixator, and she promptly responded with excitement.

On Dec. 17, four days after Smith helped Washington to the top of the NFC East standings, Patsis rebuilt his fixator into the Lombardi Trophy, needing only seven hours to complete the project. The four metal rings that surrounded Smith’s lower leg were cut in half and welded into the shape of a football and the triangular base of the trophy, and the original struts and connecting rods were reconfigured into the stem.

“She said he kind of got a little bleary-eyed when he opened it,” Patsis said. “That’s the goal, to get an emotion out of art. So now it’s on his shelf with the rest of his prized possessions, probably.”

Indeed, Smith was surprised when he received the gift on Christmas, and the trophy does sit on a bookshelf at the Smiths’ home, as Elizabeth noted in her social media post before kickoff Sunday.

“I had no idea. I was not in on that,” Alex said after the game. “We had talked a lot about doing something with the fixator. We tried to donate it, but apparently it’s only a one-time-use thing because they’re crazy expensive. It was really cool to open that on Christmas. Definitely the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had, so I thought it turned out awesome. Pretty cool and unique.”

Such a project would normally cost $400 to $500, Patsis said, but he instead proposed a trade to Elizabeth: In exchange for the rebuilt fixator, he asked for a pair of signed jerseys — one for his wife, a football fan, and one for their daughter.

Washington’s victory over Philadelphia was the first football game Patsis watched with rooting interest. He still doesn’t fully know the rules or the terminology, but he knows Smith, whose comeback is now commemorated in steel and titanium.

“I mean, I’m not as good looking, but we both get to live in a dream world,” Patsis said. “He gets to play football, and that’s probably fun. I’d rather drive a car. But I can appreciate when people really love what they do, and obviously this guy didn’t just come back to be able to walk. I can appreciate that drive and desire to want to keep doing what you like to do.”