Scary moment in Houston makes Indy players reflect on dangerous game

By Michael Marot

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts are all about winning games.

But for five to 10 minutes Sunday, unbeaten records, divisional leads and Super Bowl quests took a backseat to life.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the one played out in Buffalo two weeks earlier, the Colts and Houston found themselves unified in prayer as Texans defensive tackle Cedric Killings left the field strapped to a stretcher before resuming the game.

It’s life in this violent sport.

“It shakes you up a little bit when that happens,” Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. “But as a professional, you’ve got to get back to the task at hand.”

Even Monday, as the Colts were off to another 3-0 start, the concern over Killings lingered.

What made the second-quarter play so scary Sunday were the immediate thoughts it evoked of Buffalo tight end Kevin Everett, who sustained a life-threatening spinal cord injury in the Bills’ season-opener. Doctors are now optimistic that Everett, who went back to his hometown of Houston last week to recover, may walk again.

And like Everett, Killings was injured on perhaps the most dangerous play in football – the kickoff return.

As part of the Texans’ “wedge” unit, the 310-pound Killings ran up the field at full speed, going head first to open a hole. Rookie receiver Roy Hall met him at about the Texans’ 15, turning his left shoulder slightly in an effort to break through and make the tackle as players are taught. Both dropped instantly to the ground, and while Hall eventually walked away, Killings did not.

At first, some players didn’t realize how bad it could have been.

“Initially, I wasn’t paying attention to the other guy, I was more worried about Roy,” said rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez, a college teammate of Hall’s. “As it dragged on and on, it got kind of scary.”

The long delay sent emotional shock waves through both teams.

Texans players walked onto the field and gathered near their fallen teammate, and three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said after the game he wanted to give Killings an encouraging message but officials asked him to keep his distance so the doctors could work.

Coach Tony Dungy said that’s become the league norm in recent years, and acknowledged those frightening injuries make it tough to play football, even when they occur to the other team.

“I think you, as the opposing team, really are in tougher shape because you don’t know what happened,” Dungy said. “The team with the injured player usually gets a report, so they know the situation, but the other team really doesn’t. With the events of the last three weeks, it makes it even tougher.”

It appears Killings and Hall will, fortunately, be all right.

Killings spent Sunday night in a Houston hospital with a neck injury and had feeling in his arms and legs. Hall walked briefly into the Colts locker room Monday wearing a bulky harness over his left shoulder, and Dungy said he expected Hall back within a few weeks.

For those, like Colts linebacker Rocky Boiman, who already have a risky job on the coverage team, it’s tough to watch.

“I think it (kickoff returns) is the most dangerous play because you run a full 50 to 60 yards and in a split second you’re making a hit,” said Boiman, who was on the coverage team when the injuries occurred. “Plus, you’ve got guys coming at you from different angles. That’s when you get the real big collisions.”

Medical advances have helped reduce the severity of some serious injuries.

Doctors now credit the quick action taken to run an ice-cold saline solution through Everett’s system that put the player in a hypothermic state for aiding in his remarkable recovery.

The Colts and the Oakland Raiders, in fact, are two teams that use a portable CT scanner on the sideline, something Dungy said would be available to opponents if they needed it.

But players understand they cannot play tentatively in a league that prides itself on toughness and big hits, even in the immediate aftermath of a big scare like Sunday’s.

“You don’t have the luxury of choosing when to lay up or hit a guy hard,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “Obviously, you want to wish him and his family well and you pray for him and you want to make sure he’s all right. But you’ve still got to play the game.”

Nor can you worry about risking injuries that are bound to happen in such a physical game.

All they can do is continue to play fearlessly.

“You know you’re going to get hit and everyone knows when you do get hit it could be your last one,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a risk that we, as professional football players, have determined is worth it.