Colts rookie safety Rodney Thomas II had Monday night's Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals showdown on, but during the first quarter left his spot in front of the TV to go do something else.
He didn't realize what happened to his friend, Damar Hamlin, until his dad called him on FaceTime.
Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field at Paycor Stadium on Monday. It was a scary, upsetting scene for anyone at the stadium or watching on TV: As CPR was being administered, grief-stricken Bills players cried and had thousand-yard stares on their faces as they processed the horrific scene in front of them. After an agonizing stretch, during which the trainers and medical professionals tending to Hamlin shined, he was loaded on to an ambulance and rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
For Thomas, he watched the frightening event unfold with his parents on FaceTime and quickly made the decision he'd make the drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to see Hamlin. He had to figure out the logistics, but eventually he jumped in his car and made the trip to the hospital where Hamlin was in the ICU.
"I had a goal," Thomas said on Wednesday, speaking in the Colts' locker room eloquently and with remarkable poise about Hamlin. "I knew where I was going, so I just got on the road and I just went. Laser-focused."
Thomas met Hamlin at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, where the two were teammates and became close friends. The two talk every day, and communicated prior to Monday night's game in Cincinnati. And after arriving to find Hamlin sedated and intubated in the ICU, Thomas held Hamlin's hand and talked to his friend again.
"I know he could hear me," Thomas said. "Even if he couldn't hear me, it didn't matter. I said what I had to say."
Getting to see and be with Hamlin, instead of hearing about his condition second-hand, put Thomas at ease. And Thomas said showing up allowed a brief sigh of relief for Hamlin's parents – a reminder of how tight the bond between Hamlin and Thomas truly is.
"It calmed me way down," Thomas said. "It made the trip home a lot easier. I could go home and know he's gonna be straight, I got him, we all got him, everybody's behind him. You see what's going on, everybody's behind him.
"And when he walks out of there and he sees the support he has, it's going to be a real special day."
The support Thomas mentioned has been in the form of countless prayers and gestures from the NFL family and humanity at large, as well as the remarkable number of donations to a GoFundMe Hamlin created in 2020 to support his Chasing M's Foundation's holiday toy drive. On Wednesday, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts donated $25,003 – the three representing Hamlin's jersey number – adding to the over $6.5 million raised in the last 48 hours.
That incredible figure has come not only from an outpouring of people looking to support Hamlin after Monday night, but from people who've learned Hamlin's story over the last few days.
"He's just the most genuine person you could come across," Thomas said. "No hidden motives, no nothing — he just wants to see the people that care about him succeed, and the people that don't care about him, he wants to see them succeed. He's just that type of guy and he lives his life like that.
"... If you go back home, everybody knows Damar. Everybody will say the same thing about Damar — everybody will say the same thing about his character, his work ethic, his hard work, his giving. You'll hear nothing but positive things following his name."
Thomas, who leads the Colts with three interceptions, will take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday with Hamlin on his mind.
"I never put it aside," Thomas said. "I'm putting it right where it's gotta be — right in my mind and playing for him, playing for what he represents."
And after seeing Hamlin this week – and knowing the kind of person he is – Thomas knows his friend will make it through this: He will, soon enough, see the worldwide support for him and will leave the hospital in Cincinnati on his own two feet.
"No doubt in my mind," Thomas said. "He's a fighter. No other thought in my mind of him walking out under his own power."