One of the unanswered questions that has swirled around the canceled Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game of week 17 of the NFL regular season is whether players were told they would have 5 minutes to warm up again after Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field.
ESPN’s Joe Buck said on the broadcast that the players would have their allotted time to warm up again before Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor ushered their players back into the locker room. NFL Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent as players were denied 5 minutes to warm up and return to the field after the medical emergency.
An anonymous high-ranking official from one of the teams in the game credited NFL chief football administrator Dawn Aponte in an interview with ESPN for being the go-between for the coaches and referees at Paycor Stadium and those who made decisions in the league’s command center in New York City. The official said there was no way the teams would play again and she described the effort to suspend play for good that night as a scratch effort.
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«The league did not cancel the match», the team official told ESPN. «The Bills and Bengals called off the game.»
The team official added that once the ambulance left the field with Hamlin inside, «it was very clear from everyone’s perspective» that the game could not continue.
«The only chaos was coming … from the command center,» the official said.
Vincent was described as the most senior executive in the command center at the time. He vehemently denied calling the players to warm up again.
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«The league screwed this up because Troy Vincent screwed it up,» the official said. «That’s the wrong person in the wrong position at the absolutely wrong time…he wants to be the hero, but he’ll never take responsibility. That’s him to the core.»
As the game was left in limbo and the players remained in their locker rooms, ESPN reported that multiple ideas came out of New York, including the idea that the Bills would stay in Cincinnati overnight. The team official said in his team’s mind, «there was nothing to discuss.»
Taylor said there was «no pressure» for anything to happen, nor was there a directive for the team to warm up again.
The league suspended the match after 66 minutes. Vincent addressed the media afterwards saying there was no directive for the players to warm up again as ESPN backed up his reporting the next day.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told reporters last week that an NFL rules analyst insisted they didn’t tell anyone about a five-minute warmup with ESPN’s John Parry, who was in the booth and he relayed the information to Buck, Troy Aikman, and the viewers at home.
«We endorse Troy Vincent’s comments and strongly refute this characterization,» McCarthy said.
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The Bills and Bengals game was later called off and ruled a no contest.