CINCINNATI – The game was everything a Who Dey fan wanted to see.
The limelight of Monday Night Football.
The mighty Buffalo Bills in the Queen City.
The Cincinnati seven-game winning streak was about to go to eight.
The best quarterback in the league was on fire.
The Bengals jumped out to a 7-3 lead on MNF, and Paycor Stadium exploded with roars of excitement.
A lot was on the line.
Cincinnati was 11-4, and Buffalo came in at 12-3.
Two powerhouse teams.
The Bengals were in contention for the AFC North Division crown, and trying to secure at least one home playoff game.
Quarterback Joe Burrow led the Bengals down the field on the opening drive, and found Tyler Boyd on a 14-yard TD with 12:34 left in the first quarter.
A statement was made.
It took Cincinnati only five plays to march 75 yards, with the aid of a pass interference call.
Buffalo countered to put up a field goal with 6:52 to go in the first.
The Who Dey crowd was revved up and excited.
Then, with 5:58 to play in the first quarter, everything stopped.
Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collided with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins near midfield — on what appeared to be a normal football play.
Hamlin staggered to his feet, wobbled, and fell to the turf flat on his back.
Players on both sides immediately signaled for help.
Something was very wrong.
Team medical staff began to perform CPR on Hamlin.
Players on both sides of the field were in tears, praying.
Panic set in for some.
After about nine minutes of administering CPR, the emergency responders loaded Hamlin into an ambulance.
The media made their way down toward the locker-room, but the halls were closed off.
Several Bengals walked back from the Bills locker-room with concern on their faces.
Bengals team chaplain Vinney Rey was praying arm-in-arm with a staff member outside the Bengals locker room.
Higgins emerged in street clothes and found his mother.
They embraced and walked down the tunnel with their arms wrapped around each other.
The game had a magnitude of importance riding on it.
This game was hyped, and a potential home field playoff advantage awaited the Bengals.
But in a split second, all of this lost its relevance.
Hamlin, 24, was clinging to life.
A record crowd at Paycor Stadium went silent for what seemed liked two hours.
The turn of events leads to so many questions.
What should happen to the game?
Should it be rescheduled?
Can it be rescheduled?
In the grand scheme of life, none of these matters.
What matters is a young man’s life.
Over the weekend, Ohioans were disappointed when the Buckeyes missed the game-winning field goal on Saturday night.
They had all but beaten No. 1-ranked Georgia, and just needed one more score.
But that never happened.
But life went on.
This is different.
Fans of every team in the league are praying for the best.
This mysterious play will make all of us stop and wonder – what is the most important thing in life?
MLB great Albert Pujols once told me that he likes to ask new players in the league the same question.
When players make it to first base, he likes to ask them what the most important thing in life to them is.
He wants to let them know that there is more to life than baseball.
There is faith.
There is family.
There is more.
During Monday Night Football, we all asked ourselves the same question.
How important is football to life?
Maybe not as important as we had thought.
Yes, it teaches great life lessons and sportsmanship – but it is a multi-billion-dollar business.
At the end of the day, the best life lesson from the suspended MNF game is simple …
Hug those close to you and forgive those who hurt you.
Life is short.
You may not have 5:58 left in your game.