EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nick Gates, who was sidelined for 410 days after suffering a horrific leg injury but returned to the Giants' starting lineup on Thanksgiving, has been named the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.
"It was pretty cool," said Gates, who learned he received the honor when coach Brian Daboll announced it in a recent team meeting. "I got voted by my teammates for it. I knew I was up for it, but I didn't know I was getting told that day.
"I was a little shocked. I didn't think I was going to get it. (Wide receiver) Sterling (Shepard) was on the list. And I think (quarterback) Daniel Jones, too. Those are two good people – people that are loved by their teammates and are good leaders in the locker room. They display a lot of things that are on that list. So, to be able to get picked in a group like that, it was awesome."
View photos of Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates throughout his NFL career.
Gates, an offensive lineman who turned 27 yesterday, has played in the Giants' last four games, a remarkable comeback for a player who wondered if he would ever suit up again.
Each year, the Ed Block Courage Awards honor NFL players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. The award is unique in that the recipients are selected solely by a vote of their teammates. Every fall, all 32 teams conduct a vote which results in each team selecting their Ed Block Courage Award recipient.
The Ed Block Courage Award recipient symbolizes professionalism, great strength and dedication. He is also a community role model. With this honor, Gates enters into an association by becoming a major component of the Courage House National Support Network for Kids. He becomes an Ambassador of Courage for victims of abuse, violence and neglect.
The Courage Award has become one of the most esteemed honors bestowed upon a player in the NFL, especially since the recipient is selected by his peers.
The Giants' 2021 honoree was running back Saquon Barkley, who totaled 856 scrimmage yards after missing almost the entire 2020 season with a knee injury.
Fittingly, Gates' first snap this season was as an extra blocker on Barkley's one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter at Seattle on Oct. 30.
"I always appreciate stepping on the field now coming back from injury because I never had an injury like that, or I've never had a big injury before in the game," Gates said. "Every chance I get to step on the football field in practice, games, I appreciate every single moment and try to just enjoy it. I had that first game where I kind of took it all in and I'm like, 'Oh, I'm back,' but now it's on to the next thing. My leg feels good, doesn't hurt, so just onto the next game basically."
Gates has experienced the full range of emotions of an NFL player. He joined the Giants as a rookie free agent in 2018, injured his foot in the preseason and spent the entire season on injured reserve. Gates debuted the following year when he played 16 games with three starts. In 2020, he was a lineup mainstay, starting all 16 games at center. He was one of just five Giants to start every game.
In 2021, Gates was selected one of the Giants' seven captains and started the season opener at center. He moved to left guard in Week 2 after Shane Lemieux was sidelined with a knee injury. Late in the first quarter at Washington, Gates' lower left leg got caught under some players and snapped. The game broadcast did not show replays of the injury, which was called everything from "gruesome" to "devastating." More specifically, Gates fractured both his fibula and tibia, and subsequently underwent seven surgeries to repair the damage and heal infections.
Gates tirelessly rehabilitated to return to the field, not knowing whether the leg would improve enough for him to play or if Daboll and his coaching staff would find a spot for him. He spent training camp and began the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list but returned to practice on Oct. 5 after passing his physical.
On Oct. 26 – deadline day to either add him to the roster or keep him on PUP for the remainder of the season - Gates was activated. The Giants had lost linemen Evan Neal and Ben Bredeson to injury in a victory in Jacksonville three days earlier.
Gates played five snaps on offense and three on special teams in his return to game action in Seattle. After the Giants' bye week, those numbers increased to 13 snaps on offense and four on special teams in a victory vs. Houston. The following week against Detroit, the snap totals were 25 and two.
Perhaps more significantly for Gates, center Jon Feliciano suffered a neck injury against the Lions, just four days prior to the Giants' Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas. Gates made his 22nd career start and 18th at center and played all 65 offensive snaps in the Giants' 28-20 loss.
"It was good," Gates said of the heavy workload. "You get tired over the course of the game. I felt it a little bit. I felt like my stamina was pretty good. I played pretty steady through the game, and I played hard.
"I felt like what they had done for me and worked me into certain situations helped me out. I wasn't thrown right in there at the beginning. I'm happy with the way I progressed. They did it the right way with me."
Gates is asked so often to reflect on his remarkable journey from injury to starter that it's impossible for him to avoid it internally.
"I think about it every once in a while," Gates said. "The big game was Seattle, and I tried to be like, 'Alright, that happened.' And I tried to not put it behind me but move on. Now just play football. (I think) like, 'You got back; you hit your goal. Now, get another.' My leg hasn't bothered me since. That's been nice, too – not having to worry about that. I got reps on it, and I know it's fine.
"There's only been a couple of days (when he's thought about the leg). Like when it's raining, I know it's going to rain. Or it's super cold, then it aches a little bit. But that's normal. It's from having the rod inside there."
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.