Bills Bengals Football

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen pauses as Damar Hamlin is examined by medical staff after collapsing during Monday’s game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

Near noon on Tuesday, as Damar Hamlin remained in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital, the toy drive he once hoped to raise $2,500 for had topped $4 million in contributions.

Most of the more than 150,000 people sending money, they couldn’t know Hamlin. They hadn’t even heard of the Buffalo Bills defensive back until he was hit struck in the chest Monday night tackling Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins in what appeared a common football play – until the aftermath.

Hamlin stood up and then collapsed to the field. No one knew just then his heart stopped. But the reaction was the same for the ones watching on national television Monday night as the ones kneeling on the Cincinnati football field.

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen said he knew something was wrong right away, and former NFL trainer Kevin O’Neill said the same from his home.

“I saw the trainer waving for help,’’ he said. “That’s when I knew there was a problem.”

Some say a life-and-death moment like this puts sports into perspective. But no one needs a player collapsing on the field, players weeping openly, opponents praying together and both teams agree the game wasn’t going on to put sports into perspective.


“I’ve never seen anything like this,” ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said at one point.

That’s how scary the scene was, how gut-wrenching it became as players kneeled on this same Cincinnati field in a similarly somber scene as players prayed for Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa going off in an ambulance in October.

Tagovailoa’s head smacked on the ground, his hands showed a “fencing response” position America learned was reaction to head trauma, and he went on a stretcher to a hospital.

Concussions. Head traumas. Brain studies. That’s become part of the football vocabulary by now. Players are aware of the dangers of concussions and spinal damage. Heart stoppage isn’t an injury of anecdotes in sports. Hank Gathers died of a heart attack in college basketball. Reggie Lewis did in the NBA.

CPR was administered to Hamlin on the field. At some point, a tube was put down his throat to maintain a flow of oxygen.

O’Neill, a former University of Miami, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins trainer, said Thom Mayer, the players’ union doctor, required back in the 1990s for every game to have a rapid intubation specialist on hand. Mayer said the tube was necessary in an emergency.


“To my knowledge, (Monday) night was the first time it’s ever been used,’’ he said.

It was Tuesday morning now and O’Neill had just talked with Kent Falb, the former Detroit Lions trainer. Falb performed CPR in 1971 on a Lions defensive back, Chuck Hughes, who is the only player to die of a heart attack at a game.

Hughes died in the ambulance en route to the hospital. The game went on.

“A lot has change since then,’’ O’Neill said.

He was talking medically, but it’s changed inside the game, too. The players and coaches might have been the ones who decided to stop Monday’s game. They informed league officials they weren’t playing, according to some reports.

Monday’s game meant plenty from a football perspective, too. A playoff bye and top seeds were at stake. MVP races. A prime-time matchup on ESPN.


But there’s no way a game could go on Monday night. No one thought so, either. It gets back to the overriding idea that sport is the most important thing that doesn’t mean anything.

The players know. Dozens sent out messages after Monday’s game like similar to that of New York Jets and former University of Miami receiver Braxton Berrios.

“Keep praying for Damar and his family this morning,’’ Berrios tweeted. “This game feels like the most important thing in the world sometimes until perspective wakes us up.”

The Bills sent out an update, too:

“Damar Hamlin spent last night in the intensive care unit and remains there today in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. We are grateful and thankful for the outpouring of support we have received thus far.”

It was early Tuesday afternoon when the Bills sent that. Hamlin’s fund-raising page was approaching $5 million.

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