Geno Smith sucker punch: Revisiting the locker room fight that marked beginning of end with Jets



Before he got the hook in New York, Geno Smith ate a hook in the locker room.

Whether it’s by injury, poor play or tumult surrounding him, the veteran quarterback has been dealt gut punches his entire NFL career. But one punch, one very, legitimate strike, actually altered his NFL career irrevocably.

MORE: Geno Smith career timeline from NFL Draft to Seahawks

On Aug. 11, 2015, Smith was (right) handed — literally, handed — a punch at the hands of Jets defensive end IK Enemkpali, opening the door for backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to take the job and run with it. And run with it, he did.

While Smith has settled into a nice career with himself, resulting in getting some starting opportunities with the Seahawks, an up-and-down start to his NFL career landed him as something of a permanent backup, playing for his third team since the Jets drafted him in 2013.

Why was Geno Smith punched?

On Aug. 11, 2015, Jets head coach Todd Bowles announced that Smith had suffered a broken jaw after a locker room altercation with another player. Bowles had described the hit as a “sucker punch.”

As it turns out, Smith was decked by defensive end IK Enemkpali, and for a pretty dumb reason.

Smith had promised to attend Enemkpali’s football camp, with Enemkpali paying his fare to fly down to Texas. The tickets were worth $1,200, with the sides agreeing to go 50-50 on the price.

The quarterback had not attended the camp after a bike accident landed Smith’s brother in the hospital few days prior. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith had promised to pay back the $600 to Enemkpali, but apparently not quick enough for Enemkpali, who deposited a right hand on his jaw, instead.

There are conflicting reports to whether or not Smith actually goaded Enemkpali into throwing the punch: A former New York Jets beat writer reported that Smith had actually been pointing his finger in Enemkpali’s face, essentially challenging him to throw hands. 

Other teammates say that Smith had been holding out paying back Enemkpali, rather than just paying him the money he was owed outright. Instead, the debt lingered for a month, leading up to the Jets’ preseason opener vs. the Lions.

Unfortunately for Smith, the punch fractured his jaw, and he would miss the team’s first two games of the season, and a red-hot Ryan Fitzpatrick would grab the starting job from the third-year quarterback. Fitzpatrick would have the most prolific passing season for a Jets quarterback in franchise history.

Smith would play in the Jets’ Week 7 loss to the Raiders, relieving an injured Fitzpatrick. He would throw two touchdowns and an interception in the loss. Smith would stay on with the Jets the following season, again relieving Fitzpatrick and earning a start. Smith would suffer a torn ACL, and that would be the end of his Jets career.

Hours after the Punch Heard ‘Round Florham Park, Enemkpali was released by the Jets. The next day, former Jets head coach and current Bills head coach picked up Enemkpali, in an underrated and hilarious element of the whole ordeal. Ryan would make Enemkpali a captain for a matchup vs. the Jets that season, in Ryan’s return to MetLife Stadium.

Enemkpali never played another down of pro football after the 2015 season. Smith remains a journeyman backup starter, getting the spot starts in Russell Wilson’s absence. One punch changed the course of two careers.

As an aside: Coincidentally, Eric Decker was on that Jets team in 2015.


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