There were times, Rodney McLeod admits now, when he wasn't sure "I had it in me" to recover from a torn ACL suffered in December 2020 in time to play during the 2021 Eagles season. The long hours of rehab that translated to mini-steps of recovery seemed like such a mountain to climb for McLeod, who had suffered the same injury in 2018 and also had come back from a rotator cuff injury a season later.
"All of those hours that you put into recovery, they add up," McLeod said on Friday. "It can get lonesome in the trainer's room."
Well, of course, McLeod did recover and he did come back and play some fine football in 2021, starting 13 games and playing 684 snaps at safety in the Eagles' defense. His late-game interception in the end zone at Washington saved a huge Eagles' win and clinched a playoff spot for Philadelphia in Head Coach Nick Sirianni's first season, and all of that work and all of those hours McLeod put into his rehab were recognized by his teammates who voted him as Philadelphia's 2021 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.
One player from each NFL team is voted by their teammates to be honored for their courage and inspiration throughout the season. The recipients stand as role models for their ability to overcome adversity while also serving their respective communities. All recipients travel to Baltimore and during their stay, the recipients participate in community outreach programs, visiting local abused, neglected, and at-risk youth. The 44th Ed Block Courage Awards will be a hybrid event including a Virtual Gala and in-person events on April 2-3.
It's a very big deal for players in the NFL, largely because the award comes from a vote of the players in the locker room. To McLeod, who was also recently named the recipient of the 2022 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award, recognition from his peers means everything.
"It really caught me off guard, to be honest. I know I've had a lot of adversity throughout my years – the past three years, stemming from injuries, I would say – so being able to bounce back is just part of it," McLeod said. "I look at a guy like (right tackle) Lane Johnson and see what he was able to overcome this year and how challenging it was to deal with the mental health and the stress from that – he showed a lot of bravery and is now an advocate for mental health, and then you look at how he performed, there were several guys who were deserving of the Ed Block Courage Award.
"To receive this kind of recognition from my teammates, guys I go to battle with each and every day and week who see my grind and my passion for this game, I'm glad for them to recognize me with the award. It's a blessing, to be honest. That's the best way to describe it."
Former tight end John Spagnola was the first Eagles' recipient of the Award from back in 1984 and through the years it has been an unheralded sign of respect to each season's vote winner. Playing in the NFL requires a tremendous amount of dedication and effort and McLeod's sixth season with Philadelphia – he joined the team in 2016 as an unrestricted free agent signed after playing four seasons with the then-St. Louis Rams – was complicated by his recovery from the knee injury he suffered when the Eagles defeated New Orleans at Lincoln Financial Field.
McLeod missed the first three games of 2021 as he continued his rehab and return to football shape. Upon his return to the lineup, McLeod started 13 consecutive regular-season games, and made big plays down the stretch – first an interception against the Giants to ignite a second-half comeback in a key win on December 26 and then making the diving, spectacular interception a week later to clinch the win at Washington. McLeod also started and played 99 percent of the snaps in the team's postseason loss at Tampa Bay.
"It was rewarding in that way, the things we were able to accomplish in turning our season around," said McLeod as the Eagles recovered from a 2-5 start to reach the playoffs. "We stayed together, worked hard, and started playing the kind of football we knew we could play. It was just the start of doing something special here in a city that has meant so much to me. To get back on the field and to play at a high level, man, it was just a lot of work and in the end, it was a great feeling."
And for that, McLeod's effort, perseverance, and dedication were rewarded. His "grind" was recognized with an off-the-field honor that players in the NFL cherish, one that is rooted deep in history around the league.