CINCINNATI — As Damar Hamlin was being urgently tended to on the field just after 9 p.m. Monday night, Zac Taylor knew he was entering uncharted waters.
He also knew that that the best thing he could do was offer support to his colleague across the field.
In a sport defined by its physical nature, the Bengals coach reminded us all Wednesday there’s a real and very human side to coaching 53 men every week. As much as there is a brotherhood among players, there’s also a special bond and connection among coaches that exists in the NFL.
It was that bond that Taylor leaned on Monday as he offered as much support for Bills head coach Sean McDermott and his staff and, of course, his players.
The game instantly became secondary to making sure McDermott and the Bills could process what was going on with Hamlin being driven off the field in an ambulance, clinging to life.
“I look at Sean and his players, all they were doing is looking at their teammate, and their brother, and hoping for the best there,” Taylor said. “That’s the only thing going through their minds. I didn’t say a word to anybody the entire time except for TB (Tyler Boyd), who knew Damar, and I could tell that he was going through it. So I can just see the expressions on Jordan Poyer’s face, and Josh Allen’s face and TB’s face and your processing just, you know, how awful the situation was.
“We separated as teams, the officials, again, did a great job of coming over to me and saying, hey, you know, they’re still trying to process this moment here, Coach McDermott, the team, and so instead of playing telephone on separate sidelines, the decision was made just go over there and make sure we’re all talking together. And I won’t disclose any of the private conversations Sean and I had except for this: When I got over there, the first thing he said was, I need to be at the hospital for Damar, and I shouldn’t be coaching this game. That, to me, provides all the clarity. Unprecedented is the word that gets thrown around a lot, because that’s what it is. But in that moment, he really showed who he was and that all his focus was on Damar and being there for him and being there for his family at the hospital. And, at that point, everything began to trend in the direction it ended up trending.”
Zac Taylor says Sean McDermott told him “I need to be at the hospital with Damar.” pic.twitter.com/J0dmypS0hn
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 4, 2023
As for the mini-controversy that has arisen as to whether the players were told by the NFL to begin warming up in the event the game were to resume, Taylor insisted Wednesday there was no such messaging from the league or on-field officiating crew.
“I didn’t feel any directive that guys need to start warming up,” Taylor said. “It was just, ‘Let’s particularly give Buffalo space to process as a team’ because they had not done that. They had just been there for Damar. So then we’ve been through this situation a million times where there’s an injury on the field, something happens on the field and just the natural process is, you give yourself a couple of minutes.
“Really, I believe, there’s so much that happened that I can’t really recall. My process of remembering is that really what unfolded. There was no push for anything to happen. It was just, let’s let these moments play out, see what the next step is as people get a chance to get their minds right. Ultimately, that’s what led to the decision there.”
With signs of improvement for Damar Hamlin slowly coming in from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Zac Taylor says his team is beginning the process of moving onto Baltimore this weekend, with another division-clinching scenario in the balance.
“I think people know what they’re signing up for,” Taylor told me. “This was a tough situation. My understanding based on the information we have is it’s a one in a very small chance of that happening. Players that play football know that; they know what they’re getting into. It’s a less than ideal part of the game, but it’s a known part of the game.”
There are three players who could be directly impacted by Hamlin’s hospitalization. Tee Higgins was the player involved in the collision with Hamlin and he was clearly shaken in the moments after the injury. Then there’s Tyler Boyd and Cal Adomitis, both of whom played collegiality at Pitt, where Hamlin also played.
Everyone remembers Tyler Boyd’s game-winning touchdown on fourth down in the season finale of 2018 when the Bills clinched a playoff berth with the Bengals win at Baltimore. Bills Mafia was so grateful that fans wound up donating over $400,000 to Dalton’s foundation. Now Buffalo is getting the love, as donations to Hamlin’s foundation have surpassed $4 million. And the Bills are getting support all around Cincinnati as the UC Medical Center continues to care for Hamlin.
“We’ve always had a great deal of respect for them and that’s grown much deeper, obviously with what we’ve all seen transpire,” Taylor said. “Certainly we’re pulling for Damar. Hoping for the most positive outlook and looking forward to him seeing all the support he’s getting from his team, his community, people around the league, his family. That will be a great day when he’s able to see that. I also want to point out a lot of other people that just did an outstanding job handling the situation the other day. All of the medical professionals that were involved. The Bills trainers, the Bills doctors.
“Our trainers, our doctors. The paramedics, the emergency response team. I thought that they were on it. They were composed. It was obviously a complicated situation on the field that everyone was trying to process. And for me personally being down there and seeing the composure that everyone involved had. Obviously not knowing how the situation was going to unfold, I was led to believe it was going to be positive because of how they handled it. I think that’s important to point out they were prepared and gave Damar the best chance. So that was well done by all of them. I was really impressed and thankful for the work they put in to be ready for moments like that. The way they handled it was important for everyone to see.
“I also want to point out University hospital. The doctors, the nurses there that are helping Damar and his family. The security over there that’s doing there best to allow them to maintain their privacy. Obviously as an organization we are doing everything we can to support them but give them their privacy. And so, that’s really something you’ve seen both communities rally around, Buffalo, Cincinnati.”
One thing has been made undeniably clear over the last three days: Love of community is bigger than any sport, even the NFL.
“Unbelievable. It’s bigger than football, obviously. It’s taking care of people,” Taylor said. “I think Cincinnati and Buffalo are very similar that way, just the communities and the way that the people are. Again, that’s just been… I’m not out and about, right? I’m here, so I don’t get to see all that. But I know what my wife tells me. I know what I’ve seen and the outpouring of support has been incredible. It’s not surprising. You all know my feelings about Cincinnati. People I know in Buffalo, it’s the same way. Just two communities that have been there for each other. Then on a larger scale, just the NFL community. You look at the other organizations, the players, the coaches, the fan bases, I think everybody has appropriately done what’s needed to be done here to support Damar. And again, we had a stadium full of people that were in a situation that’s never happened before where the game was called off for the night and people are left not knowing what to do. And for our fans to understand that and handle that the right way and just be supportive of the Bills, I thought, was very classy and that’s much appreciated by everybody involved.
“We’re doing everything we can to make them feel comfortable but at the same time make sure they have privacy to manage the situation. I also want to point out the officials, Shawn Smith and his crew. Handling a situation in which there was no rulebook, there’s no protocol for how to handle that. I thought they really did a good job of everyone that was on the field could feel the seriousness of the situation. They did a good job stepping back and asking the Bills what we needed, asking us what we needed. Giving us space to process. I just thought they did a tremendous job of allowing a lot of that to unfold and everyone getting to the decision that ultimately that it got to.”