FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick doesn’t typically tune into “Monday Night Football” when his Patriots aren’t participating. But he did this week, aiming to glean any insight he could about New England’s next opponent, the Buffalo Bills.
Belichick was watching when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collided with Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, collapsed on the field and had to be resuscitated with CPR and a defibrillator before being rushed to a local hospital.
The terrifying scene instantly transported the legendary head coach back to Dec. 21, 1997, at the Pontiac Superdome. Belichick was the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator at the time, and he watched from the sideline as Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Brown suffered a severe spinal cord injury on a routine tackle and was knocked unconscious.
After sharing well-wishes for Hamlin, the Bills and the Bengals during the opening statement of his Thursday news conference, Belichick recalled that night in Detroit, which he called “chilling.”
“I’ll just say on a personal level, I usually don’t watch a Monday night game,” the Patriots coach said. “I’ll maybe randomly flip through it or whatever. But because we were playing Buffalo on a short week, I happened to have it on, and when I saw the situation, it reminded me very much of one that I experienced when I was with the Jets in 1997.
“We played the Lions in I think it was the last game of the year, and Reggie Brown was injured. It was kind of a normal play. Adrian Murrell carried the ball and got tackled, everybody got up and went back to the huddle, and Reggie laid on the field, didn’t move and was unconscious for quite a while. Ten minutes, something like that. The whole process took a long time — about a half-hour.
“By the time he finally was given CPR and revived and then put on the board and put on the ambulance and driven off the field at the Silverdome, it was quite a lengthy process where the teams looked very much like the game Monday night of concern and thought and prayer, kneeling and so forth. It was a very chilling game, one that I’ll obviously never forget. I’ve been to a lot of games, but there’s some that just — there’s a moment that sticks out, and that would be one of them.”
The injury ended Brown’s NFL career, but medical personnel at the stadium and the hospital saved his life, and he eventually regained the ability to walk without a wheelchair.
“Fortunately, Reggie has done pretty well with the emergent surgery they did and with the brace that he wears,” Belichick said. “He’s not wheelchair-bound and I know is active in the Houston area and so forth in youth sports and a lot of things like that. Great guy, great player, first-round draft pick.
“Just a very tragic scene, and one that — again, not that I have all the answers; I certainly don’t — but I was there and experienced that and I think have some sense of what the players and teams, coaches went through Monday night. Like I said, it’s something that you just never forget.”
He later added: “Life’s bigger than this game. It’s just one of these humbling moments for all of us.”
Hamlin’s prognosis remains unclear, but the Bills shared encouraging news about his recovery Thursday, announcing the 24-year-old defensive back had “shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours.”
“While still critically ill,” the team said in a statement, “he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact. His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress. We are grateful for the love and support we have received.”
Belichick said Hamlin “has been on everyone’s minds and in our thoughts since Monday night.”
“Certainly, the news from a little earlier (Thursday) morning about Damar’s progress is great news and encouraging for all of us,” he said.
In addition to texting Bills head coach Sean McDermott and contacting the Bengals to show his support for both organizations, Belichick said he’s “reached out to a number of different people” this week for perspective on the Hamlin situation.
“Different coaches in our sport, in other sports, on our team, players,” he said. “I talked to them on Tuesday. We addressed it, and all I can say — and all I’m really going to say — is I think everybody’s doing the best they can.”
“So, we’re not going to worry about any of those,” he continued. “Trying to control what we can control, which is what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it. And we’re doing the best we can.”