The Buffalo Bills took a pair of cornerbacks consecutively in the sixth round of last year’s draft. With the 212th overall pick, they selected Damar Hamlin. At No. 213, the pick was Rachad Wildgoose.
Wildgoose is now with the Washington Commanders but considers his draft partner his “brother.” Every time he thinks of Hamlin, Wildgoose becomes emotional. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened, that one of the closest friends he’s made in the NFL suffered cardiac arrest Monday – and has since made a “remarkable recovery” while still in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“Life is bigger than this game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “This is one of these humbling moments for all of us that stands out.”
Regardless of how Wildgoose feels, he will nonetheless suit up Sunday in the Commanders’ season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. But whether they knew Hamlin personally or not, NFL players across the league must grapple with trauma while preparing to play Week 18.
“I think for this whole week – and probably for many weeks to come – it’s going to be in the back of everyone’s minds, especially the guys that are playing, but I don’t think this alters the way you play,” Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said Wednesday. “I think you go out there, be yourself and everything else will take care of itself.”
‘He’s a brother in this league’
Andrews was at home watching the game when Hamlin collapsed after making a routine tackle early in the first quarter.
“It was a crazy thing to see,” Andrews said. “It’s definitely very humbling.”
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey ignores his phone during team meetings but admitted he immediately acknowledged the ESPN notifications that came across his phone. Head coach John Harbaugh opened Tuesday’s team meeting with a discussion about how much courage it takes to play in the NFL.
“It kind of helped ease a lot of our minds,” Humphrey said. “Even though a lot of us didn’t know Damar, but he’s a brother in this league.”
Veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell said he has spoken to other guys around the league to “just make sure everybody is good.”
“This is one of those things that you know can happen, but you never really expect it to happen,” Campbell said. “Something so severe like that, where a man is fighting for his life.”
Ravens fullback Pat Ricard was at home playing video games with his wife Monday when a friend they were playing with informed them an ambulance was on the field.
“It’s tragic. It could happen to anybody,” Ricard said. “For it to happen, I think it’s one of those things where it just puts a lot of perspective into a lot of people – the players, the fans, teams.”
The seeming routineness of the play and tackle is the scary part, Humphrey said.
“It was just an ordinary play it seemed like,” Humphrey said. “So, it doesn’t really change my approach of how I go about the game, but it just makes you really just think about what you’re doing.”
Hitting close to home
It was not intentional, but Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton wore a sweatshirt with the words “Take Care: Your Mental Health Matters.”
“Maybe it was a subliminal thing that I did this morning, but it is important to take care of your mental health, especially at times like this and all the time,” Hamilton said.
The team made sure counseling resources available were made known to the players and Harbaugh and Humphrey commended the work of Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, the Ravens’ clinician.
This incident hit closer to home for Ravens players compared to other real-life circumstances that can impact the workplace. But the airing of feelings isn’t uncommon in the Ravens’ facility, safety Chuck Clark said.
That type of vulnerability can be rare in a NFL locker room.
“In this game, we’re always taught to be tough and don’t show emotions, but whenever anything happens, we open up the space, ‘Just get it off. Just get your feelings out,’” Clark said.
The Bengals were firsthand witnesses to the near-tragedy with Hamlin. NFL Players’ Association president JC Tretter said Thursday the union held individual calls for the Bills and Bengals to check in, as well as league-wide call Wednesday night.
Players know they can use the union to discuss their feelings, Tretter said, but the NFLPA can also put them in touch with experts to help them during difficult timer.
“We haven’t got a ton of comments about not feeling like they’re able to play,” Tretter said.
Hamilton said the label of “the manliest thing you can do is be a football player” can dissuade players from sharing their feelings with teammates.
“People in the building are doing a great job of lending us our resources and stuff like that,” Hamilton said. “Not only in football, in this case scenario, I think in just the world in general, in society, I think everybody can probably touch on mental health a little more.”
But when it comes to playing Sunday, Andrews doesn’t want to speak for anyone else when he says that what happened to Hamlin won’t impact his fervor for the game.
“My love for the game doesn’t alter or change just because obviously something bad happened,” Andrews said. “Again, things happen. You can’t control everything, but I don’t think it changes the way I feel about football.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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