The scene was Lambeau Field during the second quarter of last Friday night's train wreck Packer loss to the New England Patriots. After sprinting downfield and jumping to catch a Brett Favre pass, the diminutive Antonio Chatman collided with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. The collision didn't look ominous until Chatman failed to get up.
Fans in the stands gasped and then fell into a deep hush. It all brought back painful memories from last Dec. 19 when fellow receiver Robert Ferguson took a vicious hit from Jacksonville's Donovin Darius. Ferguson wound up being carted off the field with a head and neck injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. The irony last Friday of seeing Ferguson standing beside the fallen Chatman as the medical staff prepared Chatman for the stretcher made it all even more difficult to watch.
Fortunately, Chatman's injury does not appear to be serious. But he knows he's a very lucky man. Asked to recall the play, Chatman chuckled and said, "All I remember is that the ball was too high, it got intercepted and I was trying to make the tackle and I got hit. That was pretty much it."
In the Packer locker room following the game, Harrison suddenly appeared and made his way over to Chatman's locker to see how he was doing and to wish him well. Chatman certainly appreciated the gesture.
"It felt good," Chatman said. "But I told him that it's football. It's OK. I appreciated the thought of him coming in here. That takes a lot for a person to come in and do that and I appreciated it. It's a rough game but that's football. You can't get mad at anybody."
In recalling the play, Harrison echoed the sentiments about the game of football and that nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. "I just saw him and I was kind of scared," said Harrison. "If a guy's laying on the mat, you know he's hurt. I just started praying for him. I had cause for concern. It was actually pretty tough for me to play the next play because you hate to see a guy get wheeled off the field. I was just scared."
The Packers certainly have their share of problems and questions to answer as they continue to get ready for the 2005 season. But seeing a player lying on the field, motionless, drives home what's truly important. Football is just a game. The safety and wellbeing of those who play it is a far greater priority. Nobody knows that any better than Antonio Chatman.
Editor's Note: Tom Andrews began covering the Packers in 1974 as a reporter for Milwaukee radio stations WZUU and WOKY. He has been a contributing writer to Packer Report since 1999 and his articles have also appeared in the Green Bay Packers Yearbook, Packer Profiles, Packer Tracker and Sports Collectors Digest among other publications. Andrews is also president of Andrews Media Ventures, a Milwaukee area media and communications consultancy. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.