A big win for UB Bulls, but thoughts remain on injured Jordan Collier and what could have happened

Suddenly, everything was different.

The crowd noise and stadium music went silent. The once active football players, who had been colliding into each other moments before were now still – some standing around with their hands on their hips, others taking a knee on the turf. More than 21,000 people were now not watching the Buffalo football team’s season opener in UB Stadium, but a 19-year-old kid being loaded onto a stretcher and put into an ambulance.

I never thought my first football game day column of the season would revolve around Jordan Collier. I’ll admit I didn’t even know the freshman backup safety’s name until it was coming through the UB Stadium press box as confirmation of the player who was down on the field with a neck injury.

Luckily, UB Athletics announced Collier was moving all his extremities and his hospital visit was precautionary. It was good to hear. But the fear remains that it could have been worse.

Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand’s spinal cord injury in 2010 is one of the most well known college football incidents. Former Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett nearly being paralyzed after a helmet-to-helmet collision on a kickoff comes to mind. A Louisiana high school kid just died Friday after a neck injury on a football field.

It’s always scary. When it happens in college, it’s a quick reminder of what all those players are really risking when they strap on that helmet. Some for a chance at the pros. Some just as a way to pay for college. Some just because they enjoy it.

But the moment the ambulance doors closed, the Bulls and Albany players lined up, the officials threw the ball back onto the field and the line judges got adjusted. The crowd’s energy returned. The next hit was celebrated. Soon enough we were all thinking about the Bulls’ fast-paced offense and the defense making plays. Like the rest of the media, I continued to tweet and make games notes. Already we were all distracted with America’s favorite game.

Players were back colliding with one another before Collier’s ambulance had even left the stadium.

Head coach Lance Leipold said he was relieved when he saw Collier’s legs moving before he was loaded in. He knows football – and he knows all about the unfortunate stories. He said he had to just try to prevent negative thoughts and keep the team focused on what they’re doing.

That’s his job to do that. It’s his job to make sure Buffalo still beats up on Football Championship Subdivision Albany. It’s the players’ job – the NCAA won’t like that wording – to keep focused. It was my job to keep covering what was happening on the field. It’s the fans’ right to continue to enjoy their Saturday afternoon at a football game.

I get all of that.

But something about it stuck with me. It seemed strange for everyone just go back to playing. Even though I had seen a player been stabilized after a neck injury on TV before, I’d never seen it in person. Never seen the strangeness and the return to normalcy firsthand.

The question becomes, is it all worth it?

The NFL is drowning in safety issues. Particularly with concussions and things like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), but also with neck and even some lung injuries. A lot of people question the future of the game.

The NCAA doesn’t face as many of these safety questions – at least not yet. The focus is still on players’ rights and what exactly the term ‘student-athlete’ means. But I’m sure these questions that have been surrounding the NFL for years will make their way into the college game as well.

The question: is football really safe?

As for the Bulls, they’ll continue to play football just as they did the last 48 minutes of Saturday’s game. Collier will try to work himself back out onto the field. I’ll even continue to cover this team for the remaining 11 games.

But watching it will feel different.

Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki