Sunday, December 23, 2007
Updated: December 24, 3:36 AM ET
Everett talks to teammates before Buffalo's home finale
By John Clayton
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Kevin Everett's return to Ralph Wilson Stadium had an air of secrecy about it Sunday. That fit his wishes.
His arrival Sunday morning lacked fanfare but offered so much hope. About two hours before kickoff, Everett got out of a car outside the Bills locker room. With a white towel over his head and around his neck -- likely protecting him from the harsh winds blowing through the stadium -- Everett walked into the locker room to visit his teammates for 15 minutes.
The amazing part is that he walked into the locker room. Fourteen weeks ago, soon after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury, the thought of Everett's walking anywhere seemed so remote. Initial medical reports suggested Everett would never walk again. In the first few days after the injury, Everett's condition was so critical there was no certainty he'd live.
Fitting his quiet personality, Everett didn't want to draw attention to himself with his first return. There was no news conference. There was no walk on the field for the fans. The moments were reserved for Everett and his teammates.
Instead of giving a speech to his teammates, he met with them individually. The scene was hard for a lot to handle.
"The guys were really inspired by that," linebacker John DiGiorgio said. "It created a little bit of emotion for us."
The players saw Everett walk. That's all they needed.
"That was tremendous," wide receiver Lee Evans said. "It was a tremendous sight to see him for the first time just walking around with a smile on his face, but like he was here before. That certainly, I think, touched everybody's heart before the game. It's something that I don't think I'll ever forget."
Everett came out of the locker room in a wheelchair, got into a covered golf cart and was taken to owner Ralph Wilson's suite to watch the game.
Fans applauded along the way. Staff members and workers at the stadium did the same.
Everett has spent much of the past two and a half months in a Houston rehabilitation center.
His recovery is a testament to his resilience and hard work and the professionalism of the doctors who worked on him Sept. 9. The trauma staff at Ralph Wilson Stadium uses some of the most advanced techniques for back trauma.
Realizing Everett faced a potentially paralyzing injury, doctors injected Everett with a cooled saline solution to bring down his body temperature. The cooling theoretically helps slow down the paralysis process.
The strategy worked. He underwent surgery at Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital in Buffalo.
After the game, Everett was able to meet Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon, who was a member of the Broncos in September. It was Everett's head-down tackle against Hixon that caused his back injury. A golf cart picked up Hixon and took him to Wilson's suite to visit with Everett.
Earlier, players from the Bills had a chance to see Everett.
"I saw him at the pregame meal this morning when I walked in, and I almost started crying," Bills quarterback Trent Edwards said. "I was just so happy to see him and see him get up and shake my hand. From the last time I saw him out on this field was a pretty devastating sight to witness that. For him to be back here, supporting our team, walking through, getting a pregame meal with us was just something. I couldn't stop looking at him, honestly."
|Buffalo's Kevin Everett, left, is driven in a cart in a Ralph Wilson Stadium tunnel before Sunday's game.|
Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.