Understandably, the New Orleans Saints struck a somber tone Wednesday, as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remained in critical condition following a tackle against the Bengals on Monday night that left him in cardiac arrest on the field of play, requiring CPR before he was transported to a hospital in Cincinnati.
The Saints (7-9), winners of three straight, will play their season finale Sunday against Carolina in the Caesars Superdome, and the first step of preparation toward that game came Wednesday.
"We had a good practice today," Coach Dennis Allen said. "I think everybody really still has a heavy heart in terms of what's going on with Damar Hamlin fighting for his life in Cincinnati.
"Obviously, our thoughts and prayers of our entire organization are with him, his family, the Bills. Really, the entire football league, what our guys go through and what they put their bodies through to play this game and to chase their dreams, is really important. And when you see something like this it just reminds you how fragile life is and it reminds you that everybody that's involved in this, although there's a lot that goes into this game, we're all humans. And I think that's where our thoughts should be."
Allen said the Saints will provide assistance to players who need it.
"It's difficult," he said. "Guys handle these situations in different ways, and we opened up our team meeting with our psychologist. She spoke to the team just a little bit, we just wanted to make sure that our guys knew that there were resources available to help them cope through this.
"I think us as men, and probably particularly football players – big, tough, strong – it's OK to admit if you need a little bit of help. I just think it's important to have those resources available for guys that want to be able to utilize that."
"As men and playing this game, everybody wants to be tough but I think the most important thing is to be vulnerable," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "If you're feeling something, let people know and get help if you need it. There's so many resources that we have, so many people that are here to help. That's one way to help those that can be struggling through this time."
Both Allen and Dalton experienced a degree of on-field tragedy during their playing careers.
For Allen, is was in college at Texas A&M.
"James Glenn was a kicker at A&M when I was there playing (in 1991)," Allen said. "He was out prior to practice warming up, and died (of heart failure) on the field. So I've seen it first-hand and how that affects people, individuals, teams. And it's tough to deal with.
"I think it still sticks with you to this day. Any time you have somebody – especially a young guy – that in every other sense you would expect that's fully healthy, to see something like that happen, it's hard to deal with and it's tough and I know what kind of effect it had on our team, so I can only imagine the guys that were on the field at that point and time, how that emotionally affects them."
For Dalton, it was as quarterback of the Bengals, against Pittsburgh in 2017. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier attempted a head-first tackle that made him a paraplegic; he had spinal stabilization surgery, learned to walk again and retired in 2020.
"That was the first thing that I thought of in that situation, was witnessing the Ryan Shazier situation," Dalton said. "I think the hardest part is just the unknown, for everybody. Even being on the other side of it, not a teammate of the guy you're going against but a guy you respect, and plays the game the way that he did, to see him get hurt and not know what's coming from that, I think it takes everybody a moment to sit back and pause and think about it."
Even more recently, in the Saints' game Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Eagle defensive end Josh Sweat was carted off the field with a neck injury. Sweat was released from the hospital Sunday night.
"The first thing you're looking at is, 'Is he moving? Can I get any sign that he's gonna be all right?'" Dalton said. "Not that you can always count on that, but it definitely does give you a little bit of hope that everything is going to be all right."
Dalton said he and his family have been praying for all parties involved. Allen, who offered the organization's support to Bills Coach Sean McDermott, said the outpouring of support for Hamlin highlights the bond between NFL players.
"I think it just shows what a fraternity this is," Allen said. "People that don't do what these guys do really can't understand; you're putting yourself in harms way chasing your dreams every time you go out there on the field. I think that bond that, particularly players have with each other, is really special and important.
"I think any time you see something like this and a situation like this, it really puts life in perspective. I think most of us have kids and realize that these are young men but yet, they're still somebody's brother, somebody's son, somebody's husband. Life is fragile and it really puts everything into perspective when you see something like this happen. It's hard."