In 2020, former Ravens and current Atlanta Falcons defensive end Steven Means earned recognition for two awards that may mean even more than being acknowledged as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
He was the Falcons’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and was the team’s recipient for the 2020 Ed Block Courage Award. The Ed Block Courage Award is an annual award voted on by players to honor one of their teammates as an example of inspiration and courage. The award banquet is typically held in Baltimore, but it’ll be held virtually this spring instead.
Means’ teammates recognized his courage in the face of a season-ending injury in 2019. Prior the injury, Means was somewhat of a journeyman. He was picked in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the University of Buffalo in 2013, then went on to play for four different teams, including one game with the Ravens in 2014. He’s been with the Falcons since 2018. But on May 22, 2019, he suffered a torn Achilles, an injury that has signaled the beginning of the end for a plethora of legendary athletes.
“Man, I hate talking about [the injury],” Means said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 10. “Especially in the trenches, I’ve broken a lot of fingers — a couple of them twice. There’s a couple of injuries that stand out that you pray that never happen to you. And being faced with the one I was scared of the most, for around 24 hours I was in a really dark place.”
Means credited an abundance of resources that helped him recover from a rough 2019. He said his teammates were there in the locker room the day of the tear, and that he could tell their empathy for the situation derived from a genuine place. Another source of strength in his support group was Kevin Winston, the Falcons’ vice president of player affairs.
“[Winston] said I’ll give you 24 hours,” Means said. “You cry. You cuss out whoever you got to cuss out. You scream, you yell. You give yourself pity. I’ll give it you for 24 hours. But after those 24 hours we have to grind and figure out how to get back.”
Those 24 hours were the only hours he allowed anyone to bestow pity on him. He had the Falcons select his surgeon, saying he trusted that the organization would do right by him and his career. Through it all, Means said the Falcons’ staff was instrumental in guiding him through recovery and in getting him back on the field.
Means also leaned on Jamal Carter, a defensive back who was rehabbing a hamstring injury at the same time.
“We had some rough times and some times where I wanted to walk out because I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to,” Means said. “They had to keep reeling me in. There was a lot of happy times where I was passing milestones. There were times where Jamal couldn’t do a drill, and I’d laugh and then I’d be unable to do the drill.”
After missing the 2019 season, Means was back on the field this year and is scheduled to become a free agent in March. At the age of 30, Means played in 16 games, started 11 and posted 38 tackles and three sacks to complete his comeback and earn the Ed Block Courage Award.
Funny enough, Means became familiar with the award during his stint with the Ravens, most of which was spent on the practice squad.
“[Terrell] Suggs had won it that year after coming back from an injury. I liked the feeling that the room had when he won it, it seemed genuine,” Means said. “He would probably slam me on my head for saying he had a little bit of water in his eye. I was like, ‘That would be a real cool award to win if I was ever in that situation.'”
Means also touched on the causes he is involved with that others can connect to as well, such as youth groups in his hometown of Buffalo as well as the Hayden Hurst Foundation, which raises awareness of mental health difficulties in young people. Hurst played for the Ravens from 2018-2019.
“I’m big on my city — Buffalo, New York,” Means said. “I go back and visit the schools I’ve been to. A couple of years I started to donate some funds so they have the means to get to the next level. Even this year, I donated my money to them, and to my teammate Hayden Hurst. He takes every dollar out of his foundation … and funnels it to the youth so they can meet with certain people before they make life-changing decisions.”
For more from Means, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons