Aaron Glenn still is haunted by what he saw at the Pontiac Silverdome that day.
Glenn was a fourth-year defensive back playing for the New York Jets in 1997 when Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Brown, Glenn’s former college teammate at Texas A&M, suffered a career-ending spinal injury.
Brown was injured when a Jets lineman fell backwards into his neck as he made a tackle on what appeared to be a routine play. The injury caused Brown’s esophagus to stop working, and as Brown went into respiratory arrest, Glenn remembers him turning “purple and blue” and getting CPR on the field.
“That play will never go away,” Glenn said Thursday. “The fact that it was a close friend of mine, that fact that it’s a brotherhood, so regardless of who it was, and the fact that every time I saw him after that, that conversation came up. And any time you just think about your career, like things like that will always flash, so that will never leave me at all.”
Glenn was reminded of his experience from 25 years ago when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday.
Hamlin was injured making what appeared to be a routine tackle in the first quarter. He stood up after the play, adjusted his facemask then collapsed immediately to the ground where medics performed CPR to restore his heartbeat on the field.
Hamlin remained in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital Thursday morning.
“I know those players from Buffalo and Cincinnati, that will never leave them, too, cause that’s a critical, critical moment in their career that they (witnessed),” Glenn said.
Lions players and others around the NFL talked openly Wednesday about returning to work while still processing Hamlin’s injury.
Players are well aware of the health risks that come with playing football, Lions teammates Michael Brockers and Jason Cabinda said, but most believe nothing like what happened to Hamlin will happen to them.
“Obviously, it’s tough, but at the end of the day, this is the kind of game where you know what you sign up for and you got to — that’s just the way the game’s played,” Cabinda said. “Anything can happen and hopefully this is a one off case where nothing like this happens again or anytime soon.”
One off or not, Glenn said Brown’s injury was “a terrible, terrible thing to actually witness,” and said the trauma of an incident like that runs deeper “when you go to battle with somebody all through OTAs, all through training camp and then you have a thought in your mind, a wonder what’s going on with this player?”
While the Bills-Bengals game was postponed — the NFL still has not announced if that game will be finished before the playoffs next week — the Lions and Jets finished their game in 1997 after a more than 20-minute delay, something that still boggles Glenn’s mind today.
“It’s hard to say (how we finished it), to be honest with you,” he said. “And I’m going to say this again, that wasn’t even important, to be honest. It was the fact that I didn’t know what was going on with Reggie at that time.”
Glenn declined to offer his opinion on whether NFL games should be played as scheduled this week, but said the league did the right thing to stop play Monday night.
“I think the NFL handled it perfect of getting the players off the field,” he said. “Man, the first responders and the medical people, I think they did an outstanding job, and they just, they gave him another chance. And I know that’s what he wants, another chance.”