As a wide receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey is expected to go to the middle of the field, catch passes, and brace for the impact that comes when a defensive back or linebacker crashes into him.
But the sight of the Silver Spring native and McDonogh graduate absorbing a blow from Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Ryan Mundy in the fourth quarter of the Oakland Raiders’ 34-31 win still caused many to grimace. The top of Mundy’s helmet appeared to strike Heyward-Bey in the facemask, and the former University of Maryland product had to be carted off the field.
Perhaps fortunately for Heyward-Bey, he said he can’t recall the play that left him with a concussion and a strained neck.
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“I really don’t remember getting hit,” he said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. “During the week that I missed, being concussed and still being a little bit out of it, I didn’t think about it much. All of my focus was to get back on the field for my teammates and my coaches. They are out here fighting. I want to be out there with them. I really didn’t think about it much. Just wanted to play football.”
In Maryland, the scene of Heyward-Bey lying motionless on the turf was stomach-churning to McDonogh football coach Dom Damico, whose cell phone was buzzing as soon as the play occurred.
“I got a lot of texts as soon as it happened,” he recalled. “It’s scary. Those guys are putting their heads in jeopardy every game with how big and fast they are and the routes that they run. When it happened, your heart just stops, and you think, ‘Just move something.’ You don’t want a kid to be permanently injured from playing the game. So once he moved, most of us felt so much better. Then it was just a matter of recovery.”
Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen didn’t see the play, but heard about it later from his wife, Gloria. The Friedgens were concerned until they got a call from Heyward-Bey’s mother, who was seeking a phone number to call the mother of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose younger brother had died in a motorcycle accident a few days earlier.
“Torrey’s brother had passed away that week, and Darrius’ mom [Vivian] called my wife in regard to that, to try to get in touch with Torrey’s mom,” Friedgen said. “So [Gloria Friedgen] asked her about that, and she didn’t seem to be concerned about it. But I was glad to see that he was able to come back in a couple of weeks and be able to play.”
Heyward-Bey missed the Raiders’ next game against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 30, but after a bye week, he returned to the team’s contest against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 14. Heyward-Bey said he never considered missing an extended period of time.
“It was nothing like a major neck injury or anything like that,” he said. “It was pretty much, ‘Hey, how do you feel today? Do you have a headache today? Yes or no?’ For me, I stopped having headaches by that next Friday. I missed the game, and I was ready to go the following week. That bye week that we had definitely helped.”
Damico said he’s not surprised that Heyward-Bey didn’t spend much time on the sideline.
“He’s a tough kid,” Damico said. “There aren’t too many people that can get up from that and go back out there in that short turnaround. But if anybody can do it, Darrius can do it. He’s definitely driven and focused, and that was probably a challenge for him on that. They probably said that he was out for the year or six weeks, and he’s going to disprove you. He’s going to get out there as quick as he can.”