Colts players returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Wednesday shaken by what they saw two days ago, when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football.
The first day of prep for Week 18 began with interim head coach Jeff Saturday leading his team in a prayer for Hamlin to open his final team meeting of the 2022 season, then discussing the horrifying, traumatic events that transpired on Monday.
"I addressed it with the team this morning, I prayed with the team this morning," Saturday said. "When I tell you it is a shaking-you-to-the-core event in your life, that is not an overstatement to what we just witnessed."
Some players on the team – like safety Rodney Thomas II – are close with Hamlin. Others have learned more about who he is as a person over the last few days, especially as a GoFundMe to benefit his foundation has soared to over $6.5 million in donations (including $25,003 from Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay).
But players always emphasize that the NFL is a family, and seeing what happened to Hamlin – who had lifesaving CPR performed on him on the field at Paycor Stadium – was jarring, even if they didn't know him personally. It's why so many players supported the game being suspended, understanding the impossible nature of asking those who witnessed Hamlin's cardiac arrest to take the field again.
"I've seen guys break their ankles — foot's going the other way — and that's hard to come back from," center Ryan Kelly said. "Seeing them cut a guy's jersey and shoulder pads off, he's not breathing and have to hit him with the paddles — I mean, that's just like, that's crazy. The guy's 24 years old and all he wants to do is play football. And we're talking about life and death. There's no way you can come back from that."
Saturday expressed a similar sentiment.
"You've seen severe injuries as a football player no matter what level you're at whether it's bones – you've seen some pretty horrific things," Saturday, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, said. "That, you saw in the faces. There is nothing typical about – this isn't we're going to move on. I think for everybody at home watching, just the realization, 'Oh my word. This young man might lose his life on this field.'
"That's not he broke his leg, that is a whole other level. I cannot imagine and I can't imagine what was going through those guys' minds when you love somebody and you've gone through an entire season and you've watched what this young man does not only on the field, but in his community, the friendships, the camaraderie and the friendships built. I mean, it goes to a whole other level. So no, I can't imagine.
"That's why our prayers are with the team as a whole. Those guys getting prepared, that's the focus, right? Man, we're lifting them up – that they can do what you're asking me Zak (Keefer), of how do you get this out of your mind? I don't know. I mean I really don't. We're lifting Sean (McDermott), the whole organization, and the Bengals, man."
Players, too, were grateful Saturday opened his team meeting with a prayer.
"I appreciated that," wide receiver Parris Campbell said. "Obviously everyone can do the Twitter prayers for Damar, but let's really take action, let's put a prayer in the air for him."
Still, the Colts have a game to play on Sunday against the Houston Texans. And while players and coaches were shaken by what they saw on Monday, they all have to find a way to get ready to play that season finale.
"Unfortunately, you compartmentalize it and you've got a game this week to go out there and play," Kelly said. "It's always in the back of your mind, but it's the last game of the season. You go out here and play as hard as you can. I've always learned the injuries happen sometimes when you're taking plays off or when you stop your feet or whatever that happens. The emphasis to go out there and play fast and play through the whistle, I think that's probably your best chance to stay healthy."
Saturday, in discussing Hamlin with his team, also told them how appreciative he is for what they go through to play football under difficult, adverse circumstances.
"The ability to try to block that portion out and go do your job and get singularly focused on that, again, it is a rare quality that few people possess. NFL players do," Saturday said. "Again, I don't minimize it, I respect the heck out of it. I tell them every time man, I respect the heck out of – every time you get out of that car, and you come in here, it's a big deal and I appreciate it."
Wednesday's practice report