LAKE FOREST – Only two weeks ago, Bears quarterback Nathan Peterman caught up with his former college teammate Damar Hamlin on the field after a Buffalo Bills win over the Bears at Soldier Field.
“I just went up to him and said, ‘Hey man, great to see you’re doing well,’” Peterman said. “I was proud of him. Him and Dane Jackson both. Pitt guys. They’re very close together.”
Peterman and the pair of Bills’ defensive backs, Hamlin and Jackson, all played together in college at Pittsburgh. Peterman and Hamlin overlapped for only one season at Pitt.
On Monday night, Peterman was watching the Bills’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals with his wife in real time when Hamlin collapsed on the turf. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, and medical personnel performed CPR on the field to get his heart beating. The 24-year-old from Pittsburgh remains hospitalized at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
It has been the biggest story in American sports all week, and it has shocked countless people in the football world. Nobody is shaken by what happened more than the people who put their bodies on the line every single week – the players.
“[I] just really felt for him, felt for everybody that was involved,” Peterman said Wednesday at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. “Praying for him a bunch. Constantly just thinking about him, praying for him, praying for his family and going to keep hoping he pulls through.”
Every single player throughout the NFL is trying to process what happened to Hamlin on Monday. He collapsed after a routine play. It was an ordinary pass from Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow to Tee Higgins. Higgins did what every football player is taught: He lowered his shoulder and tried to fight for an extra yard.
“It was just a routine play,” Bears center Sam Mustipher said. “It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
Bears running back David Montgomery was watching the game at home when Hamlin collapsed. In the aftermath of everything, he called his mom. He just wanted to say, “I love you.” He hugged his girlfriend, who is nine months pregnant, a little tighter Monday night.
“It made me look at it completely different and understand that it’s important to tell your family members and everybody that you love them,” said Montgomery, whose baby is due in 12 days.
Montgomery prides himself on lowering his shoulder and fighting for yardage. He’s a physical running back who plays through contact, not around it.
But every player across the league will have to grapple with what happened to Hamlin and the fact that they have to suit up for another game this weekend. The NFL is forging ahead with a full slate of Week 18 games. It remains unclear whether Monday’s Bills-Bengals game will resume.
Montgomery said he felt “uneasy” when he stepped back onto the practice field Wednesday for the team’s walk-through.
“It was just one of those things. You put yourself in the situation and understand that it could be you,” Montgomery said. “It’s definitely been on the forefront of my mind.”
Mustipher, who played high school football with Bills star receiver Stefon Diggs, said he loves the physicality of football. There’s no better feeling for an offensive lineman than pancaking a defender. The game of football has afforded him and his teammates so many opportunities.
Mustipher said watching Hamlin go down has led to “mixed feelings,” an internal struggle with the sport he loves so much.
“I want my son to play football,” Mustipher said. “I do. I love this game, I love what it’s taught me, the life lessons, the responsibility, the accountability, the teamwork, and, you know, I can’t imagine seeing my son out there like that [injured]. I know how my mom would feel. I know how my dad would feel. It’s unfortunate, man.”
The Bears held a team meeting when they reconvened in the building Wednesday before practice. The team pastor said a prayer with the entire team. Team chairman George McCaskey stepped in front of the team to say a few words and expressed his support for the players during this difficult time.
“The NFL’s a fraternity,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “These guys are close. We have a couple guys on our team who are close to him. Obviously, you feel for him and his family. The guy’s fighting for his life right now. Then they see that reflection in the mirror. I think that’s a little bit frightening. I think they have to wrap their brain around the violent game they do play and the risk they take every single week.”