- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2021

It started with an Instagram message.

More than a month ago, Tom Patsis opened his inbox on the social media platform to find a request from Elizabeth Smith, asking if the artist could fashion her husband’s external fixator into some sort of gift for Christmas.

As the owner of Cold Hard Art and an artist known for working with sheet metal, the 39-year-old Indiana resident had no idea the present was for an NFL quarterback — nor was he aware of all the complications and surgeries that Alex Smith endured two years ago before he could even don the brace-like contraption.

But Patsis agreed, crafting a sculpture that went viral hours before kick-off Sunday when Elizabeth Smith shared photos of the final product on social media. The original fixator was transformed to resemble the Lombardi Trophy — a “reminder of where we have been and the hard work to get to this moment,” the quarterback’s wife wrote.

Patsis said he’s been blown away by the response.

“At that time, I really had no idea of the impact of what I got to do,” Patsis told The Washington Times. “It took me until it got here in the UPS box that I go, ‘Oh yeah, a lady wanted me to make something out of this’ and my wife knows exactly how big Alex Smith is. She goes, ‘Do you have any idea of how big this is?’ … It’s not my wheelhouse. Race cars are my wheelhouse.”

A former drag-racing technician, Patsis said his clients are usually from the racing industry and tend to commission trophies, car replicas and other requests that involve metal.

At first, Patsis said Elizabeth Smith talked about fashioning the fixator, a large metal cage that kept her husband’s surgically repaired right leg stable, into a phoenix-like design — an ode to “rising from the ashes.” 

But after digging into the quarterback’s story, the artist came away amazed that Smith could even walk, let alone suit up. He came up with the concept of making a trophy of the fixator, sketched out a drawing and sent it to Elizabeth.

“That’s a win, just that he can walk,” Patsis said. “But it’s a ‘SUPER’ win that he can actually play football again. I said, ‘Oh, let’s make this into a Super Bowl trophy. The Vince Lombardi Trophy.’”

The actual process, he said, took six to seven hours. In his shop, Patsis first worked on welding a metal football to the top of the trophy-fixator, then attached the entire piece to a triangle-like base.

Rather than take payment, Patsis suggested a trade. He sent the sculpture back to Elizabeth in exchange for a signed jersey for his wife, Amanda, and his two-year daughter, Luna. Normally, Patsis estimated that a project like that would have cost $500, but he was more than glad to do a swap.

And despite Patsis worrying about potential post office delays, Smith’s gift arrived with two days to spare — making it in time for Christmas.

“Definitely the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had so I thought it turned out awesome,” Smith said after Washington’s 20-14 win Sunday over the Eagles. “Pretty cool and unique.”

On Sunday, Patsis sat down and watched Smith grind out a gutsy win over Philadelphia in primetime. The victory clinched Washington’s first NFC East title since 2015. Patsis said he came away with the impression that Smith ‘is a winning dude.”

Patsis, though, had a question: Was that Smith’s first game back since the injury?

Well, it was his eighth actually. The 36-year-old made his return in October. Patsis chuckled.

“That was the first football game I watched in a while,” he said.

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