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CINCINNATI — Moments after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit on Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, CPR was performed for over seven minutes on the field to restore his heartbeat, and soon the 65,000 people at Paycor Stadium who watched it all unfold stood in numbed silence.
But soon all hell was breaking out in both the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills locker rooms and at the NFL offices in New York.
Hamlin was taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where efforts to save his life continued into the night. He is listed in critical condition according to the NFL.
Hamlin’s family released the following statement Tuesday just before noon ET:
The Bills said Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field following the administration of CPR for nearly eight minutes. There were other life-saving measures as well. Hamlin was sedated at the hospital, the Bills said.
Bills Return To Buffalo
Hamlin stayed in the hospital while the Bills’ traveling party boarded their Delta Airlines charter at 1:20 a.m. for their 84-minute flight home to Buffalo. The NFL said all other Bills players were expected to leave with the team but multiple sources told OutKick some Bills players wished to remain in town to support their teammate.
These grown men had cried openly on national television as their teammate fought for his life. They spend countless hours lifting weights to increase their strength. But this moment left them powerless.
So it makes sense some wanted to stay with Hamlin. Because they feel the need to do something.
While the Bills were boarding their equipment and passengers to go home at the Cincinnati airport — which is actually in Kentucky — Bengals coach Zac Taylor was seen entering UC Medical Center. Taylor did not stop to speak with reporters.
On Tuesday around 12 p.m. ET, Bengals owner Mike Brown released the following statement:
Bills Fans, Staff, Coaches Visit The Hospital
There were between 30 and 50 Bills and Bengals fans camped outside the UC Emergency room entrance and main entrance. They talked among themselves. And they prayed.
All this combined as a picture of the NFL’s worst nightmare scenario come true:
We saw a player who routinely risks injury on each play reaching that unthinkable moment when the risk he takes is to his life.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president for football operations Troy Vincent saw Hamlin collapse as they watched on TV. During their conversations to figure out what to do next, it became obvious the league’s nightmare moment was before them.
“Obviously he was devastated,” Vincent said of Goodell. “This was an occurrence we haven’t seen in our time. And the concern was, he kept asking, ‘What’s the latest update? What’s the latest update on Damar?’ “
Updates were scarce Monday night into early Tuesday.
There’s no telling, for example, what the league will do with this game and its playoff seeding implications.
NFL Has Not Considered New Game Date
“That’s not even a consideration right now,” said NFL executive vice president for communications and public affairs and policy Jeff Miller. “Our concern is for the player and his well-being. At the appropriate time I’m sure we’ll have a conversation around the next steps regarding the game.”
The first step for the league after Hamlin’s immediate care at the stadium was figuring out whether to play on. Or not.
But it was never about saving this one game, Vincent said. During his telephone conversations with Goodell, referee Shawn Smith, and the two coaches, Vincent said saving the player first and doing right by everyone else afterward were the priorities.
“Obviously we saw the coaches and players and, frankly, those that were tuned into the game, all traumatized,” Vincent said. “Myself personally, just thinking through what is actually happening, what is taking place in real time, and as emergency care was taking place on the field, I’m in communication with Shawn, who’s the referee tonight, and making sure he was in constant communication with both coach Taylor and coach [Sean] McDermott.
“And what was most important tonight wasn’t proceeding with the game. Frankly, the competitive aspect never crossed my mind, never crossed our minds internally.”
Not long after Hamlin was taken away, the Bills defense actually went back onto the field. They lined up as if ready to play. The Bengals offense never returned to the field.
But soon referee Smith spoke with Taylor and McDermott. Everyone agreed the teams should go to their locker rooms and the game was “temporarily suspended.”
Situation In Locker Rooms ‘Volatile’
That’s where it apparently got a little hairy as the teams spoke among themselves about what should happen next.
“It was fluid and things were changing by the minute,” Vincent said. “Emotions, as you can imagine, in both locker rooms. And I commend both those coaches. It’s a tough situation to go back and look at 53 men and ask, not that they asked, but to just to try to calm people down.
“It was obvious on the phone with them that the emotions were extremely high. It was a very volatile situation. I thought the coaches, they led tonight. They led their locker room.”
Not just the coaches. Captains from the Bengals visited the Bills locker room as players discussed their situation. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was among those to make the walk between locker rooms. He wore his full uniform.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen, out of his uniform a full hour after the game was called, walked back to his team’s locker room after a visit in the Cincinnati locker room. Someone said Allen went to the Bengals to thank them for supporting he and his teammates.
After the game was postponed and the crowd was gone, the Bengals changed the lighting in their home stadium to Bills blue. It was done out of respect to Hamlin and the Bills.
And while all this was happening, ESPN apparently reported the teams were told they had five minutes to warm up and resume play.
Five-Minute Warmup Story False
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Vincent said. “Frankly, there was no time period for the players to get warmed up. The only thing we asked was for Shawn to communicate with both head coaches to make sure they had the proper time inside the locker room to discuss what they felt like was best.
“I’m not sure where that came from of five minutes warmup. That never crossed my mind, personally. And I’m not saying I to be selfish but I was the one communicating with the commissioner.
“We never, frankly, it never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive and that’s not a place we should ever be in.”
The sensitivities of the Bills fan base is famous around the NFL because they consider their team and the players as, well, family.
So it wasn’t surprising when these fans showed up outside the hospital — in a cold and constant rain — despite having zero hope of actually being allowed inside.
“Why not?” Bills fan Ryanne Clingersmith said. “That’s the question. Why not? We show up to the airport when they win games and when they lose. We show up. Because we’re Bills Mafia and we’re family. And that’s why we decided we had to come down here.”
Clingersmith drove 11 hours from Virginia Beach, VA. to watch her team play on the road. And she’s driving back Tuesday knowing she probably spent the night outside a hospital and got no relief for what she was feeling.
“Yeah, we’re hurting,” she said. “We’re not hurting because of football. We’re hurting because we don’t know what’s going to happen to him.
“Is he OK? That is what we care about. What it comes down to is, is he going to walk out of here? Is he able to go be that father, son, brother, uncle to his family. Will he be OK, and that is what matters most now.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero