INDIANAPOLIS — Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell was watching Monday Night Football with his wife at his suburban home when Bills safety Damar Hamlin was hit hard, leaving his body become powerless. The ambulance came out and the players got down on one knee and cried bitterly.
Campbell turned to his wife, Taylor, and they prayed together:
“Anytime you see something like this, you think of yourself,” Campbell said. “We all play the same game that Damar plays. I think about his family. You think about your own family. You really think about what the game is really about and the risks you’re taking.”
The downfall of Hamlin has left the NFL community at an impasse. They clung to news of his status, from CPR to an ambulance ride to the moment he opened his eyes again on Thursday. At the same time, the world must understand the risks players accept to provide entertainment, a conversation Campbell has been having with himself.
Campbell believes something bigger is going on here.
“When something like this happens and really shakes up the world, it’s really just a time when the world turns,” Campbell said. It doesn’t matter what people focus on. It just transforms and brings us together.
“You pray, you hope traumatic things don’t happen, but when they do, you can really see a country come together for the same cause.”
For a team like the Colts who didn’t make the playoffs, Hamlin’s fall happened just in the final week of the regular season. It’s a forced reflection on the journey to get here, and what risks they took along the way.
Campbell has a lot to reflect on. After all, Sunday will be his 17th game of the season. It was the 17th race, and he came back from the pain, the loneliness, the questions and the doubts, back to where he promised himself he would be.
Don’t tell him it’s not important.
“When we’re talking about turning over, I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said. “We’re not taking it lightly.”
With the help of his growing family, Campbell has been riding the waves this year, his first healthy season in the NFL and the worst season for the Colts in a decade.
He has a wife named Taylor whom he met at Ohio State University. He has a 4-year-old son named Kay who wears Colts jerseys and wants to emulate him every game. He had a daughter named Skylar who was born in the spring.
Around the time she came into the world, Campbell launched a YouTube documentary series called “Kick It With Campbell,” recounting his recovery from knee and foot surgery through the lens of his family, which made He kept it bright.
“My injury was the darkest period of my life,” Campbell said.
Documentary director Zach Schwartz said: “His story has many layers. I think a lot of times athletes talk about adversity, and a lot of athletes have been through adversity, but I really think Paris has a legitimate story to tell.”
The documentary series allows Campbell to sit down and retrace the path he’s come to now. The show begins with him watching a video of draft night, when a kid who had just welcomed his son into the world saw his family explode around him as the Colts drafted him in the second round.
By the end of the video, tears flowed uncontrollably, and he wiped them with the back of his hand.
“There was so much repressed stuff inside of me,” Campbell said. “When you’re locked up at home and you’re not giving it your all, you think at the time it’s good for you, but in reality, it’s built up a lot. You feel like your back is against the wall and you’re suffocated by that stuff.
“It ended up being my therapy session.”
Those conversations, combined with unwavering conviction, led him to finish speed training at the Exxos Center in Arizona, where he was determined to return his surgically repaired foot to a 4.3. He was training in Florida when he received word that his college quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, had died while practicing there.
This spring, Campbell left behind all the raw emotions and put them on display for him and the world to see. It makes his injury an ongoing conversation, a collective health check on his mental state.
“The most important thing is confidence,” Campbell said. “You can’t think, ‘Oh, this will happen again. It will happen again. You can’t think like that. You can’t fall into that trap.”
But that’s what fans sometimes write on his Twitter and Instagram, so confident that a player who has played just 15 games in three seasons always breaks down.
So, he chose to say it: He said his goal was to play all 17 games.
He started with those days in the spring, one after another, without any injury flare-ups. He never missed a day of training camp, and by the first week he found out Ryan wasn’t there.
When the race came, he started cutting his knee harder and getting to his landmark faster. The Colts started finding him the ball. He had 57 receptions for 581 yards and three touchdowns, second only to Michael Pittman Jr. in those categories.
Campbell has become a symbol of recovery on a team that has been piling up with injuries. When rookie tight end Drew Ogletree collapsed on the grass in training camp with a torn ACL, the closest player to his knee was Campbell.
“It made me feel like I was part of his family,” Ogletree said. “Seeing him gave me hope that I could still come back and be the player I was.”
Campbell’s best performance came during the Colts’ worst season. They’re 4-11-1, the worst offense in the NFL. They fired one of his close coaches, Frank Reich, and benched one of his coveted quarterbacks, Matt Lane.
“Man, I had a great time,” Campbell said. “This is what I signed up for. This is what I dreamed about doing.
“When I’ve had things — broken bones, knee injuries, brute force — it’s really out of my control. I think I’ve had some unfortunate breaks. But that’s what it is. It’s the story of my journey. Part of it, part of my story. But the way I prepared and the way I took care of myself, I knew it was going to take root in the end.”
The loss is distressing and he is resisting the urge to bring these items home to his wife. He wasn’t used to it after losing six games in five years at Ohio State. His Colts are now on a six-game losing streak.
Sunday’s game against the Texans will be another chance for his son to don the Colts’ No. 1 jersey and his father’s chance to prove he belongs. It didn’t break everyone this year, and it’s unlikely to break him.
Contact Colts insider Nate Atkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.