They play figuring out the potential penalties. They play understanding that at any second your knee can go a technique, the remainder of you the opposite. They play regardless of the blood, regardless of the ache, regardless of the information that the worst harm of all may not floor till 40 years after their closing snap, on a mind scan.
“We play,” Vinny Testaverde stated at some point in the summertime of 2000, as he was making an attempt to come back again from a blown-out Achilles, “as a result of there isn’t any better excessive than taking part in at this stage. However each one in every of us is aware of how fragile all of it is. And nearly each one in every of us has realized that lesson firsthand, the exhausting method.”
However none of them ever believes it’ll come to this, collapsing to the turf of a sold-out stadium on nationwide tv. They’re younger males, all of them, in extraordinary form. Ankles snap. Spinal cords are ruined. Shoulders tear.
That’s one they by no means see coming. That’s definitely not one thing a 24-year-old Buffalo Payments security named Damar Hamlin was even pondering as he ready to play crucial recreation of the season, at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium.
Hamlin was in on a play. He acquired to his toes. After which he fell. At first it seemed like every of a dozen terrifying moments in any NFL recreation, a participant felled by the viciousness of the sport. However quickly it was apparent: this was one thing completely different. This was one thing worse. Gamers on each groups frantically referred to as for assist from the sidelines. Gamers ringed round Hamlin so TV cameras — fortunately — couldn’t seize the location of CPR being administered.
It was chilling. It was jarring.
Payments gamers Tre’Davious White #27 and Mitch Morse #60 react on the sector. Getty Pictures
Again on Oct. 23, 1971, a reserve receiver for the Detroit Lions named Chuck Hughes caught a cross late in a recreation in opposition to the Bears and was tackled by two Chicago gamers. A number of performs later he served as a decoy on a play, locked eyes with Chicago’s Dick Butkus on his method again to the huddle, and some seconds later his eyes rolled again in his head and he collapsed to the grass at Tiger Stadium. He was carried off on a stretcher. He was given emergency care within the tunnel, rushed to the hospital the place he was declared useless of cardiac arrest at 5:41 p.m.
The Bears and Lions performed on.
Fifty-one years later, it truly appeared that the Bengals and Payments would resume the sport after a five-minute “suspension” as Hamlin was loaded onto an ambulance and brought to College of Cincinnati Medical Middle. The NFL is lucky that the Payments are coached by Sean McDermott and the Bengals are coached by Zac Taylor, who understood a quite simple reality:
Their gamers couldn’t play a soccer recreation after witnessing that.
They’re human beings. Lots of their faces — each groups — had been streaked with tears. 5 minutes? That wasn’t going to work. McDermott waved his gamers off the sector. So did Taylor. Generally it’s best to permit the boys who play this recreation to determine what is correct. Often they do.
Again in September 2001, it took Michael Strahan of the Giants and Kevin Mawae of the Jets to vow in no unsure phrases that the 2 New York groups wouldn’t be taking part in soccer on Sunday, Sept. 17, not whereas Floor Zero was nonetheless smoldering in decrease Manhattan. That pressured the NFL to do the proper factor. Pete Rozelle might have used such sensible counsel; he went to his grave regretting that he didn’t cancel that video games of Nov. 24, 1963, two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Josh Allen, proper, reacts on the sector. AP
Strahan and Mawae carried the day in 2001. McDermott, Taylor and their gamers did so Monday night time. The groups retreated to their locker rooms. About an hour later the NFL introduced the sport was formally postponed — whereas additionally asserting Hamlin was listed in crucial situation.
It’s a exhausting recreation, a imply recreation, a vicious recreation. The gamers understand it. The coaches understand it. The followers understand it. We obtain periodic bursts of sobering reality — ugly leg accidents like those suffered by Joe Theismann and Tim Krumrie, horrifying backbone accidents like those we watched Dennis Byrd and Darryl Stingley and Mike Utley.
After which we get one thing like Monday night time, Damar Hamlin on his toes one second and on the bottom the subsequent, and we’re reminded of the true penalties plasters face each week, each recreation, each snap. And that these gamers actually are flesh and blood, actually are human beings. They harm — and harm for his or her teammates.
Fortunately, as usually as not, they’re additionally those who know find out how to correctly reply when tragedy visits the sector.