One of the unanswered questions that have swirled around the canceled Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals game from Week 17 of the NFL regular season is whether players were told they would have 5 minutes to warm up again after Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field.
ESPN’s Joe Buck said on the broadcast players would have the allotted time to warm up again before Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor brought their players back to the locker room. NFL Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent since denied players were given 5 minutes to warm up and get back on the field after the medical emergency.
An anonymous high-ranking team official from one of the teams at the game gave credit to NFL chief football administrator Dawn Aponte in an interview with ESPN for being the middleman in between the coaches and referees at Paycor Stadium and those who were making decisions at the league’s command center in New York City. The official said there was no way the teams were going to play again and described the effort to get the game suspended for good that night an effort from the ground up.
"The league did not cancel the game," the team official told ESPN. "The Bills and the Bengals canceled the game."
The team official added that once the ambulance left the field with Hamlin in it, "it was crystal clear from everyone’s perspective" that the game could not go on.
"The only chaos was coming... from the command center," the official said.
Vincent was described as the senior-most executive in the commander center at the time. He vehemently denied making the call for players to warm up again.
"The league screws this s--- up because Troy Vincent screws this stuff up," the official said. "That's the wrong person in the wrong position at the absolute wrong time ... He wants to be the hero, but he will never take accountability. That's him to a T."
As the game was left in limbo and the players remained in their locker rooms, ESPN reported that multiple ideas were floated from New York including an idea that the Bills would stay in Cincinnati overnight. The team official said in his team’s mind, "there was nothing to be discussed."
Taylor said there was "no push" for anything to happen, nor was there a directive to get the team warming up again.
The league suspended the game after 66 minutes. Vincent addressed the media afterward saying there was no directive to get the players warming up again while ESPN backed up their reporting the next day.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told reporters last week that an NFL rules analyst was adamant they did not tell anyone about a 5-minute warmup to ESPN’s John Parry, who was in the booth and relayed the information to Buck, Troy Aikman and viewers at home.
"We stand by Troy Vincent's comments and strongly refute this characterization," McCarthy said.
The Bills and Bengals game was later canceled and ruled a no-contest.