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Tennessee football: Cooper Mays talks Damar Hamlin

A sobering reality struck the football world Monday, one that made Tennessee football beating the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl seem extremely trivial. It’s a reminder of the dangers of this game and how precious life is.

This is obviously a reference to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field after a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals in a Monday Night Football game. Hamlin was rushed to the hospital and remains in critical condition, and the game was called.

Fresh off celebrating his team’s Orange Bowl victory to finish 11-2, Tennessee football center Cooper Mays had to put it all in perspective after seeing the hit. He said it’s a reminder of how dangerous the game could be.

“We kind of popularized stuff like you’re going to war, or you’re putting your life on the line, and you say it, but you don’t really mean it to a certain degree,” he said. “You never go out there thinking that that’s actually a possibility, or I don’t at least. I don’t ever really put that in my mind at all, but that stuff’s real, and it could happen at any time, but it usually doesn’t happen on such a big scale.”

Mays referenced 1971 as the only other time such a serious event occurred on the NFL field. Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed on the field and had a fatal heart attack.

However, one of Hughes’ arteries was clogged, and he wasn’t hit on the previous play, so that tragedy wasn’t considered injury related. Hamlin’s was, which is what made it unique.

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“Stuff like that doesn’t happen very much on the NFL scale, so just seeing that and looking at all the players being vulnerable out there, it shows you where priorities are,” Mays said. “I think the NFL gave them five minutes to warm up and go back to playing, and everybody was just, ‘no.'”

Hamlin’s injury came after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, whose helmet drove into Hamlin’s chest. Higgins is from Oak Ridge, Tenn., and played college for the Clemson Tigers.

Before signing with Clemson as part of their 2017 class, though, Higgins actually committed to Tennessee football in the summer of 2015 before decommitting in February of 2016. Mays said Hamlin’s injury puts priorities of life and football in perspective.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “I hope he recovers and everything, but it just shows you that there’s more important stuff in life than this game.”

Although scary injuries in football, players generally seem to recover. Even within the slate of bowl games Saturday, there were a couple of scary head injuries.

However, as Mays said, this was more than an injury. He noted that while he has seen them on the field, usually you expect a recovery time from the injury. Wondering if a player will live is a completely different scenario.

“This wasn’t like tearing your ACL or breaking your arm,” he said. “This is somebody’s life we’re dealing with.”

Earlier that day, in the Cheez-It Bowl Citrus Bowl between the Purdue Boilermakers and LSU Tigers, Purdue receiver Deion Burks was carted off the field due to a head injury. He banged his head hard on the turf going for a catch.

It was a scary moment, but Burks reportedly was awake, responding and had movement and feeling in his extremities. Mays said these injuries show that football players are still just human.

“At the end of the day, we’re all cut from the same cloth,” he said. “We all bleed just like everybody else bleeds, and we hurt like everybody else does, so it just puts stuff in perspective for you.”

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