Amid the blurred colors and barely controlled chaos of the opening weekend of NFL games, the world changed dramatically for one young man Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y.
Kevin Everett, No. 85, a backup tight end and a third-round draft pick out of Miami by the Buffalo Bills in 2005, lay motionless on the field.
Fans and players awaited some sign of movement from him. A kick, a twitch. A quick reassurance that he was all right.
Everett dislocated his neck and injured his spinal cord on the opening kickoff of the second half. He launched himself into the ballcarrier, the Denver Broncos’ Dominik Hixon, and hit Hixon’s left shoulder pad face-first. Everett displaced his third vertebrae, pushing it over his fourth and creating a scissor effect against his spinal cord. Doctors are saying the cord isn’t damaged, so there may be some hope for Everett to walk again, though they’re calling such chances “slim.”
I can’t imagine what went through Everett’s head in the moments after he dropped to the turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He never lost consciousness; I’m not sure which would be preferable, given the circumstances. The fear would be unfathomable. The regret. The immediate sorrow for everything you’ve ever done wrong in your life. Instant bargaining with God (or any god) for every word, thought or action you’ve ever perpetrated in your life. Silently begging for this to be just another stinger; just another scare among the many that longtime football players experience.
Instead, it appears Everett will become the fourth NFL player paralyzed by an on-field hit during the modern (post-merger) era.
Mike Utley was rendered paraplegic after hitting the unforgiving turf at the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome while playing for the Detroit Lions in November 1991. Utley offered an inspiring thumbs-up while he was being wheeled off the field, something countless players have replicated since then, as a reassuring gesture to fans and teammates.
Darryl Stingley never got that chance, having been rendered quadriplegic in a collision with Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum during a 1978 preseason (read: meaningless) game. Stingley died in April at the age of 55.
New York Jets defensive tackle Dennis Byrd broke his neck and was paralyzed in a collision with teammate Scott Mersereau in 1992. But Byrd miraculously recovered, inspiring a book and movie titled, “Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story.”
I find myself wanting to launch into some heartfelt plea for stem-cell research, and for the NFL and NFLPA to do more for players both current and retired to ensure they get the medical care they need … but I won’t lay out some chest-beating case for it here. My thoughts are still with Everett. And frankly, the circumstances should speak for themselves.
Here’s hoping that the Bills place Everett in their stadium’s Ring of Honor, perhaps next to Bob Kalsu, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970. Kalsu exhibited valor on the battlefield as the only active NFL player killed in Vietnam. But Everett will have effectively given his life embodying the courage of all football players.
UPDATE: Neurosurgeon says Everett could walk again.