Damar Hamlin Getty Tee Higgins Bills Bengals
Getty Images

Former Vanderbilt fullback Brad Gaines expressed his thoughts and concerns for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins after his involvement in the play that resulted in Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest during the Bills-Bengals Week 17 matchup. Gaines, now 55 years old, was involved in a similar situation that forever changed both his life as well as the life of Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins.

On Oct. 28, 1989, Gaines was the target on a short pass during a game between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss when Chucky Mullins tackled him head-first. The impact shattered four vertebrae in Mullins' spine, rendering him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. Mullins died less than two years later after suffering a pulmonary embolism at just 21 years old.

Speaking to The Tennessean, Gaines shared that watching what unfolded when Hamlin collapsed after tackling Higgins down on a 13-yard gain made him "sick at my stomach" and kept him from sleeping. Gaines expressed his thoughts and sympathies not only to Hamlin, but also to Higgins given his own experiences being involved in a play with dire consequences.

"Obviously, I prayed for Damar, but I also prayed for Tee Higgins," Gaines said. "There is no way that game was going to continue to be played. Unless you've been in those shoes you have no idea the kind of impact something like that has on the players. You saw what it did to me. I was never the same."

The injury to Mullins altered the trajectory of Gaines' football career, as he opted not to return to Vanderbilt after his senior year and never played football again after not being selected in the NFL Draft. Gaines and Mullins later befriended each other, and Gaines now visits Mullins' grave in Alabama three times a year.

Watson Brown, Vanderbilt's coach during Gaines' playing career, also told the Tennessean that he was thinking of what Higgins was going through given his own player's experience.

"I mean, we were in a game and all of a sudden it's not a game anymore. It's life and death. That's what those players and coaches were going through last night," Brown said. "And I knew what (Higgins) was going through because I saw what Brad went through and how much it affected him."

Fortunately, Damar Hamlin's circumstances have begun to trend in a much more positive direction. While the Bills second-year safety remains in critical condition at UC Medical Center, doctors say that Hamlin is awake, responsive, and now able to communicate with his neurological condition and function intact.