Leaving Paycor Stadium Monday night after a highly anticipated NFL matchup between Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills was suspended in the first quarter after Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest following a tackle was one of the most eerie feelings Times-Gazette reporter Jacob Clary said he had ever experienced.
Clary was at the game as a fan seated near the top of the packed Cincinnati stadium.
“Exiting the stadium, it was one of the quietest sporting experiences I’ve had. It was so eerie because I think everyone was just thinking the same thing,” Clary said Tuesday. “I’ve never left a stadium or sporting event where the fans were in that kind of a daze, and I have been at a Reds playoff loss and multiple Bengals losses to the Steelers. I could just tell that this was different.”
Clary said he stayed in the stadium more than an hour after the injury that came with Cincinnati leading 7-3 because most of those at the game didn’t have a lot of information about what was unfolding.
“Immediately following the injury, I didn’t really know exactly what was going on, but I definitely knew it wasn’t a normal injury. The vibes were completely off,” Clary said. “I felt like everyone kept waiting for the thumbs-up we usually get from injured players, but it never came. We never really got any information from the Bengals officially, and I think rightfully because the most important thing was making sure the player was OK.
“Following about 15 minutes, I think everyone realized the game would at least be temporarily suspended. We were getting information through social media and outside messages from people watching the television broadcasts, with the announcers saying they didn’t know how the game would be able to continue with the Bills players obviously seeming out of it emotionally. That led to the majority of fans in the stands, I think, feeling like it would not be right to at least continue the game on Monday, if at all.”
Prior to the game Clary said the energy inside and around the stadium was palpable.
“It seriously felt like a pre-playoff game atmosphere, but without any of the hostility from either teams’ fans. The Bengals and Bills fans have a storied history since (former Cincinnati quarterback) Andy Dalton helped the Bills break their playoff drought, and since then, the two fan bases have been inseparable,” he said. “That atmosphere was felt in the energy walking into the stadium. Everyone was just ready to watch a game between two of the NFL’s best teams.”
Cincinnati won the coin toss prior to the game and decided to receive opening kickoff. The Bengals scored a touchdown on the opening drive.
”Following the Bengals touchdown, it felt like the stadium breathed a sigh of relief and was ready for the rest of the game,” Clary said. “The home team decided to take the ball first, which left me, and I’m sure a few others, a little worried they might have decided wrong and led to a bad start. However, the Bengals simply marched down the field and scored pretty easily, leading me and many others to think the team was in for a great game on offense.”
Clary said all that took a back seat once Hamlin was injured.
”I definitely felt like the whole stadium was collectively thinking about the player as well as his family, and hoping that he would pull through,” he said.
The Bills-Bengals game will not be resumed this week and the Week 18 schedule remains unchanged, the NFL said Tuesday.
The NFL has made no decision regarding the possible resumption of the pivotal Bills-Bengals game at a later date.
The 24-year-old Hamlin remained in critical condition on Tuesday after the Bills said his heart stopped after making a tackle in the opening quarter of a game against the Bengals. Medical staff restored his heartbeat during frantic moments on the field before he was loaded into an ambulance. Players from both teams were crying and praying during an emotional scene in front of a national television audience.
Two years ago, Hamlin started an online effort to buy toys for Kelly and Nina’s Daycare Center — a facility co-owned by his mother — in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a place with about 6,000 residents along the south bank of the Ohio River.
The fundraiser that as of last month had raised $2,921 was up to $4,427,080 by 2 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday — with about 157,000 people going online in that span to donate, on average, about $28. Some of the donations were smaller. Some were more than $5,000. Some were even from New England Patriots players, who are scheduled to play at Buffalo on Sunday for the regular-season finale.
On average, about 2.5 donations were being made every second in that initial 17-hour span. And many came with messages of hope for a 24-year-old player in his second season, sedated in a Cincinnati hospital, listed in critical condition and with some teammates unwilling to return to Buffalo just so they could remain close to him.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.