Wednesday was not a normal practice for the New York Giants. Nick Gates, whose career was in serious jeopardy after he suffered a lower leg fracture last September, practiced for the first time since sustaining the injury.
Gates, who underwent seven surgeries following the injury, was embraced by a slew of teammates at his locker prior to practice. And while he still has to clear another hurdle (the Giants have to activate him in the next 21 days or he will spend the rest of the year on injured reserve), Wednesday's practice was a milestone worth celebrating.
"There were doubts, of course," Gates told Giants beat writer Art Stapleton. "Now? I feel like I can play football again. Just fun to be out there. Feels like I have a normal leg again. Didn't hurt. Didn't ache."
The injury occurred during the Giants' second game of the 2021 season. Gates, who was beginning his third NFL season and second as a full-time starter on the Giants' offensive line, broke his fibula and tibia in the game. Despite the pain he was undoubtedly dealing with, Gates offered a memorable message to his teammates prior to being carted off the field, his 2021 season over.
They didn't win, but the Giants certainly played hard in a 30-29 road loss to Washington. Gates, however, did everything in his power to make Wednesday's practice participation a reality. He was walking a day after his initial surgery and two days after sustaining the injury. Gates started running in the spring and started to regain strength in his legs by late July.
Gates' unyielding desire to play again has given him a chance at joining a Giants team that is off to its best start since 2011, the season New York won its fourth Lombardi Trophy. And while the story of his recovery is inspiring, it isn't anything new for someone who thrives on beating the odds.
"I've always been kind of the underdog," Gates said during training camp. "Nobody expected me to win the job in college. I won the job in college. Nobody expected me to be anything as an undrafted free agent. I became something. I was a captain. I think that is cool. I was undrafted and was a captain in the NFL for the New York Giants! There isn't much better than that."