Red's badge of courage

Posted Nov 10, 2011

When Red Bryant went down with a knee injury last season, even he questioned whether he'd be able to return to the player he was. He's not only back; he's been voted the Ed Block Courage Award by his teammates.

To truly appreciate what Red Bryant has done in the first half of this season, you have to remember where he spent the second half of last season.

In the training room.


Red Bryant joins these past winners of the Ed Block Courage Award for the Seahawks:

2011: Red Bryant
2010: Leon Washington
2009: Nate Burleson
2008: Chris Gray
2007: Seneca Wallace
2006: Ken Hamlin
2005: Bobby Engram
2004: Chad Brown
2003: Trent Dilfer
2002: Floyd Womack
2001: Mack Strong
2000: Matt LaBounty
1999: Brian Habib
1998: Cortez Kennedy
1997: Howard Ballard
1996: Steve Broussard
1995: Brian Blades
1994: Rufus Porter
1993: Eugene Robinson
1992: Terry Wooden
1991: Joe Nash
1990: Tommy Kane
1989: Dave Krieg
1988: Bruce Scholtz
1987: Blair Bush
1986: Mike Tice
1985: Curt Warner
1984: Pete Metzelaars

It was in a Week 8 loss to the Raiders in Oakland last season that Bryant damaged that medial collateral ligament in his right knee to the point where it required surgery to repair an injury that usual heals without a procedure. What followed for the Seahawks’ five-technique defensive end was months of arduous rehabilitation and moments filled with self-doubt.

What has followed that, however, has been an impactful eight-game run where the 330-pound Bryant has been a disruptive force in a defense that is allowing the second-lowest per-rush average in the league (3.4 yards) and ranks 13th in rushing defense (110.4 yards per game) – not to mention the two field-goal attempts he blocked in the Week 7 game against the Browns in Cleveland. 

Bryant’s teammates recognized his determination, toughness and dedication last week by voting him the Ed Block Courage Award, which goes to the player who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Bryant will be presented his trophy at a function on Monday night, and also becomes a candidate for the NFL honor.

“Getting this honor means a lot, given the fact that I’m coming back from an injury that a lot of people didn’t feel like I would probably come back from – because I had an ACL coming out of college on the same knee,” Bryant said this week, referring to a surgery that repaired the anterior cruciate ligament while at Texas A&M.

 “So to come back and play at a high level, it’s just a testament to the trainers and the hard work and the encouragement my teammates gave me.”

But it’s primarily a tribute to Bryant, who waited so long to play and then had it taken away from him just as he was playing so well. A fourth-round draft choice in 2008 as a defensive tackle, Bryant played in only 10 games his first two seasons. But when coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010 and needed a bigger body to play the five-technique end spot, Bryant was moved outside.

“I finally got an opportunity to contribute, and then I get hurt,” Bryant said. “Then I had to battle back. And there were days that I even doubted it could happen.”

But Bryant found a way to make it happen, and his teammates took notice.

“To come back and play at a high level, I’m extremely grateful,” he said.

Leon Washington was the Seahawks’ selection for the Ed Block Courage Award last year, after he returned from having a steel rod placed in his right leg to repair a fracture that ended his 2009 season while playing with the New York Jets. This year, Washington cast his vote for Bryant this year.

“The hardest part about it is the mental challenge of coming in every day and not seeing immediate progress that you’re getting better to get back on the field,” Washington said. “You have to trust that you’re going to get there, and Red did a tremendous job with that.

“Then, besides what he does on the football field – which is extraordinary, he’s a really, really good football player – he’s a leader in this locker room. Everybody respects him. Everybody looks up to him. That type of guy deserves to be the Ed Block Courage Award winner.”

That’s the problem in this league – when a player gets a major injury, he disappears from the public eye. While his teammates are on the practice field preparing to play games, he’s in the training room.

Bryant’s rehab schedule was five or six days a week, several hours a day, month after month. Then, he had to continue the final stages without the help of the team’s trainers and medical staff because of the 136-day lockout. In March, when the lockout started, Bryant went to Arizona to workout with teammates Brandon Mebane and Leroy Hill. Later, he ended up back at Texas A&M.

“It’s tough,” he said. “A lot of people don’t see the tough days, where you wake up and you just have a bad day – you can’t really move, you wonder if it’s ever going to happen.”

Those people who did see what Bryant was going through know just how much the chance to play again meant to him, and how hard he worked to make it happen.

Like nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who not only plays next to Bryant on the line and has the cubicle next to him in the locker room but is his best friend.

“It’s difficult for anybody to go through that,” Mebane said. “But for Red, he was just real anxious to get back on the field and get out there and contribute and be a team leader like he normally is. It was tough on him because he missed it so much and wanted it so much.

“But you see evidence now that it’s blessing that he went through what he went through. Because he’s got a story, and he can tell other people his story – you know, don’t give up on life and don’t give up on your dreams. To come back and do what he’s doing this year, he’s showing a great deal of character.” 

Like assistant trainer David Stricklin, who supervised Bryant’s rehab.

“Guys dealing with a rehab like this can go through a period of denial and depression, and Red definitely did that a little bit,” Stricklin said. “But he did a really good job of figuring out what he wanted to do this season and that helped him turn the page, get geared up and he just took off from there.

“Then it went from being a hindrance to a motivator.”

Like his wife, Janelle, and father-in-law, Jacob Green – the Seahawks’ all-time sack leader who also wore the No. 79 that Bryant now dons and played left end.

“I’d have a little setback and I’d come home, but my wife was always there to help me through it,” Bryant said.

With their support and encouragement, Bryant not only beat the odds but flogged them. He is back on the end of the D-line and making plays, just like he was before the injury.

Was there one moment this season when Bryant reflected on just far he had come to get back to where he belongs, and the defense needs him?

“Yeah, of course,” he said through a large smile. “Every game it feels like I’m getting stronger and stronger. There will be plays where a guy comes out of nowhere and hits you and goes into your leg. But you just jump back up and you know all that hard work is paying dividends.

“To be able to come back and have my flexibility and move my feet as swift as I’m able to, to help me run plays down, I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

Those who were part of his journey on the road to recovery share in Bryant’s achievement – from Stricklin and fellow trainers Sam Ramsden and Donald Rich; to team doctor Ed Khalfayan, who performed the surgery; to his teammates, who supported him and now have voted him the Ed Block Courage Award.

“Absolutely,” Stricklin said of sharing in the pride of the accomplishment. “We take it personally, and it took the whole team to help bring Red back.

“There were some up-and-down moments through all of this. So to watch what Red is doing now, it’s amazing. And for him to win this award, it’s an awesome deal.