Injury report from Sunday’s game: Ko Simpson – out for season (ankle), Jason Webster – out for season (arm), Kevin Everett – may never walk again (neck), Coy Wire – out indefinitely (knee), Bills Nation – in mourning (heart).
A horrific report for a game, particularly the first of what was going to be a difficult season, injuries not withstanding. Under different circumstances I would try and bring some humor to the situation, but there is nothing to laugh about today – there is no joy in Mudville as a player fights for his life.
Being a sometimes commentator on the Buffalo Bills I’ve grown accustomed to using gallows humor to bring some levity to some tough times. Tough times encompassing a 7 year playoff drought and heartbreaking losses of every variety. Players, coaches and system have come and gone and each year we are told that the good times are just around the corner. There have been very few times when my dark sense of what’s funny has failed me, but tonight is such as night. There are no humorous ways to talk about Sunday.
Admittedly, I did not have high hopes for the 2007 Buffalo Bills. I had them pegged as a 5-11 team given the losses on defense and the lack of positive progress displayed in the preseason (I know – it’s only the preseason – but can you honestly say you saw some signs of greatness in the way the Bills played?).
On Saturday I questioned why I was about to leave my family and drive over 500 miles to attend the Bills opener. The forecast called for rain, I had some pretty bad tickets, half the normal crew I sat with couldn’t make it to the game and I really thought the Broncos would destroy the Bills. Other than blind devotion to my team and an 8 month hibernation from watching football I had no idea why I was getting into my car for a 7 hour drive.
And so I found myself sitting in the pouring rain in lot 2, trying to stay dry in a decade-old Bills poncho. The seats weren’t as bad I thought – I was actually able to see the new scoreboard – and for a bit of the game it actually stopped raining. The biggest surprise, however, was that Bills were in the game right up until the end. Not just in the game actually, but winning it from the start. Despite a lack of big plays (only 1 play went longer than 20 yards – Marshawn Lynch’s fantastic 23 yard touchdown jaunt), and being bested in almost every statistical category, the Bills were close to stealing the type of win they will need to do a few times to even think about the playoffs.
Having been to the last decade’s worth of home openers in Orchard Park, I knew that another soul-crushing loss was a distinct possibility as the Bills failed to put the game away. After the Bills got a gift in the form of a rare 43-yard missed field goal by Jason Elam, the Bills got the ball back with 3:32 left to play nursing a 1-point lead. The Bills needed to put together a drive to eat the clock and/or gain field position the Bills put together a pathetic 3-play, 5 yard drive that took only 56 seconds. They punted to Denver and pinned them on their own 15 yard line, until a penalty forced a re-kick and the Broncos found themselves with the ball at the 34. What followed was a drive where the Bills failed to stop their opponents on 3rd and 23 and 3rd and 13 – both of which resulted in 4th and 2 situations which Denver converted. By the time the Broncos got into field goal range you had to know that they were going to take the lead for the first time in the game – with no time left on the clock and the only time where leading actually mattered.
So add Sunday’s loss to the 2004 Jacksonville home opener loss where Ernest Wilford caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone with no time remaining and the 2002 home opener where the Bills lost in overtime when Chad Morton went 96 yards for the Jets on the overtime kickoff. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly be that painful again, it was. The crowd once again shuffled out in stunned silence. A 10 year old boy, not used to the hard lot of being a seasoned Bills fan, cried uncontrollably at the unfairness of his beloved team choking in the final seconds.
And then the real pain. Back in the parking lot we learned more about Everett’s injury. Unlike the injuries where players are backboarded as a precaution and later come back just fine, Everett hadn’t moved and was heading into emergency surgery. Although cliché, all I could think about was how football was just a game but Everett’s situation was life. This is a guy who makes a living with his body – a top level athlete with friends and family. Now he was in a hospital and his life was turned upside down. Far from thoughts about him ever playing another NFL game were concerns about him ever being able to move again or even survive and breathe on his own. I remembered the 3 major surgeries my own son has endured and what its like to be in a hospital ICU not knowing what the next hours, days, moths or years hold. It’s something you can’t understand until you’ve been in that situation and there are no words to describe it. And so there are no funny words to describe the situation, and no darkly humorous commentary to write. There are only the thoughts and prayers from a writer in Boston that somehow out of the ashes of Sunday will rise a full recovery of a man lying in a coma 500 miles away. Godspeed, Kevin Everett – we are all pulling for you.