The game shrank to near insignificance and even the season did, too, right then, the way they can when a loud stadium falls suddenly still, and a player is on the field, motionless, and then he is strapped onto a gurney and wheeled to a fate unknown.
Miami Dolphins players stood in a semicircle as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was taken off and brought to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where a trauma team had been alerted. The NFL crowd in Cincinnati applauded respectfully as the player was carted off. A brief, hopeful chant arose: “Tua, Tua ...”
The Dolphins were 3-0 heading into this “Thursday Night Football” game, the last unbeaten team in the AFC, a dream season unfolding and Tagovailoa a huge part of it, when real life and the random cruelty of football collided.
Miami would lose the game, 27-15. The loss seemed secondary.
The Fins trailed 7-6 in the second quarter when Tua dropped back, paused, waited, took a bad sack. And stayed down.
The TV camera showed his fingers on both hands splayed, misshapen. Something was not right.
Someone with medical knowledge called the look of his hands “a neurological response to head trauma.”
Tagovailoa was transported to a local hospital for tests.
Anyone with a beating heart sighed relief during halftime when it was announced Tagovailoa, at the hospital, showed “movement in his extremities” — that terrible word one hates to even say aloud, paralysis, apparently out of play.
Tagovailoa had been questionable to even play in the game, on a short week, because of a sore back and mild ankle sprain sustained in this past Sunday’s exhilarating home win against Buffalo. He had been described that day as leaving the game with a “head injury,” NFL-speak for a concussion. The NFLPA later called for an inquiry over whether Miami had ignored a concussion to return him to the game, which the team denied.
That drama naturally called into question whether Tagovailoa should even have been playing Thursday night as he lay on the field, motionless.
This isn’t about controversy, though, or second-guessing. It isn’t about if Tua is “injury prone.” It isn’t about how backup QB Teddy Bridgewater fared replacing him, or whether the Dolphins won. There is time for all of that.
Thursday night, in the waiting, it was about whether Tua Tagovailoa, 24 and recently married, would walk again, let alone play again.
He had “movement in his extremities,” they said.
Against what could have been, that meant the Miami Dolphins and Tua had already won.