I began playing football at the age of eight in 1959, and since then I have always had some involvement in the game at various levels. When I was a sophomore in college (Fall of 1970), I was playing for Dean Junior College in Massachusetts and on what turned out to be the last play in the game of our last game of the season, I hit the quarterback of the opposing team (Coast Guard Academy JV) in such a way that he fractured his back. The player (Reggie Flagg) lay motionless on the field for a few minutes while medical personnel attended to him.
A short time later, an ambulance took Reggie to a local hospital. Because of the injury's severity, the game ended as there were only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.
I remember feeling horrible that I may have ended this player's career. The following day I went to the local hospital where Reggie had been admitted to see how he was doing and to apologize. He was actually doing well even though he knew he would need surgery. When I apologized, he said there was no need as it was a clean hit and, as such, a circumstance that can happen playing football at any time.
While I never had any more contact with Reggie, I did follow his career, and he did play football again for the Coast Guard Academy. For that, I was grateful.
That play happened 52 years ago, and to be honest, it had been years since I even thought about it... Until last night. When Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills' safety, collapsed on the field after making a tackle, it brought back memories of my experience. Watching players' faces on the Bills and Bengals brought back memories of the same looks my teammates and the Coast Guard players looked like. It's sad and horrible for any player to go through that.
Since working in the NFL, I have seen several hits where players have been injured or knocked out, Some more severe than others but none of those injuries affected me like the play last night. What was different about the play is that after watching countless replays this morning, it seemed like a routine tackle. Hamlin bounced right up after making the tackle and started to turn, and then totally collapsed.
At first, I thought he may have broken his neck, but from watching what was going on and listening to accounts, it seems like Hamlin went into cardiac arrest as he was administered AED and CPR, which is common for someone going through cardiac arrest. How could that happen on a football field?
I quickly did some research, and I found some articles that said a severe blow to the chest area could result in cardiac arrest. After reading that, I again looked at replays, and sure enough, Hamlin did take a hard blow to his chest area.
As I write this morning, Hamlin is in a Cincinnati area Hospital under sedation and in critical condition. None of us know what will happen next, but we all pray that because Hamlin received immediate medical attention, he will eventually recover and be fine. Many of the Bills players flew back to Buffalo last night, but several players and staff stayed in Cincinnati to remain close to Hamlin. Football fans all over the country are praying that Hamlin will recover and recover quickly.
While we all hope for the best, it does bring up the thought that it is possible that a player in an NFL game will be injured so severely that it will cause his death. If that happens, what will happen to the most popular professional sport in America? Will that end the game as we now know it? Will there be more changes to calm down the velocity of hits? Who knows?
In all honesty, I don't know how the Bills players are going to react for the rest of the season. They were in the middle of a magical season that very well could have meant a Super Bowl appearance. Following Hamlin's injury, can that still happen? The effect on the player's long-term is an unknown at this time. It may not affect some at all; some may re-evaluate why they play the game, and others may play the game more cautiously. We have no way of knowing until we see the Bills line up and play again next week versus New England.
This is unchartered territory in the NFL, so it will be very interesting to see how players, coaches, and the League react to such a catastrophic incident.
For more coverage visit our sister site, Buffalo Rumblings, and to donate to Damar’s charity you can visit this link; The Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive.