The harrowing accident that nearly ended an NFL participant’s profession

The primary two weeks after the surgical procedure have been the worst, the ache so crippling, so unceasing, that Nyheim Hines couldn’t even think about climbing from mattress.

The mere considered ordering takeout made him cringe — that will require hobbling all the way in which to the entrance door of his residence to select it up. No thanks. Not taking place. On rides to rehab, he’d grip the armrests within the backseat, bracing for any bump within the highway, fearing that even the smallest ones would trigger his knee to throb. On the hospital, when docs would ask him to straighten his leg, he’d wish to shake his head and refuse, satisfied the stitches have been going to tear open proper then and there.

“Truthfully, there have been instances I simply wished to scream and cry,” Hines instructed The Athletic, talking about his final a number of months for the primary time publicly. “It was simply rehab, man, nevertheless it was laborious as hell.”

This wasn’t alleged to be what August appeared like for Hines, the shifty sixth-year working again and particular groups standout for the Buffalo Payments. He was alleged to be serving to a contender put together for a Tremendous Bowl run.

After the November 2022 commerce from the Colts, after his two landing returns introduced the home down in Orchard Park within the common season finale — six days after teammate Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the sector in Cincinnati — and after an expanded function in offseason practices, Hines was beginning to really feel part of one thing particular in Buffalo.

He spent final season finding out the playbook for 2 hours every evening; now he knew it chilly, scoring 100s on the quizzes the coaches handed out. He not wanted his place coach, Kelly Skipper, to translate the play calls from what his outdated coaches known as them in Indianapolis. He noticed his reps rising in apply. In Hines’ thoughts, 2023 was going to be the breakout season he’d been chasing since he first entered the league.

Then, two days earlier than the Fourth of July, he hopped on a Sea-Doo and misplaced a yr of his prime.

Essentially the most devastating half?

All he was doing, Hines insists, was filling it up with fuel. The experience was a couple of minutes, max.

It wasn’t the accident however the surgical procedure that would go away Hines with what he calls “two weeks of the worst ache I’ve ever skilled in my life.” In the meantime, he discovered himself in a quick however bitter contract dispute with the Payments.

“You realize what I inform individuals?” Hines says, going again to that day. “I actually inform individuals my life is like that film ‘Last Vacation spot.’”

One of many Sea-Doos concerned within the accident that price Payments working again Nyheim Hines his season. In keeping with Hines, he hadn’t been on one all weekend till volunteering to fill it up with fuel. (Picture courtesy the North Carolina Wildlife Assets Fee)

He hadn’t been on the Sea-Doos in any respect that day. The truth is, he hadn’t been on them as soon as all weekend.

Hines prefers wake-surfing, coasting between the waves simply behind the boat, and that’s what he’d been doing for the higher a part of two hours on July 2. He’d rented a home with some associates on Lake Norman, simply north of Charlotte, and was high quality letting everybody else zip across the water on the Sea-Doos. He had coaching camp beginning in a matter of weeks.

However after some time, the Sea-Doos working low on gasoline, Hines figured he’d hop on one and fill it up with fuel. He was the one skilled athlete of the group, the one with the $9 million contract, and he wished to assist.

“Folks have been saying the fuel was low,” he remembers, “and I used to be being a very good dude. I stated, ‘All proper, I’ll simply get on certainly one of them and pay.’”

After Hines stuffed up the tank on the marina, he began driving the Sea-Doo again to the home, intent on getting again on the boat. In keeping with the accident report from the North Carolina Wildlife Assets Fee, Hines stopped in a no-wake zone behind a row of boats. He didn’t get far. A ship was coming in his course, so he tried to keep away from it.

“I attempted to maneuver to the proper of the boat,” Hines instructed the police that day, in keeping with the accident report. “As I moved to the proper, I used to be hit.”

One other Sea-Doo slammed into his proper aspect, hurling Hines into the water.

Per the report, it was Dylan Peebles, an in depth buddy and former school observe and subject teammate of Hines at North Carolina State, driving the opposite Sea-Doo. Peebles was later charged with careless and reckless operation and for not having the right boating security necessities.

“I used to be driving straight and didn’t see a ship in entrance,” Peebles instructed the police, per the report. “Then my buddy noticed it and turned and I hit him whereas he turned. He was going sluggish (and) I used to be going 20 mph.”

Peebles was touring between 20 and 40 miles an hour, per the report, and the mixed harm of the 2 Sea-Doos was an estimated $17,000. Inside two months of the accident, Hines employed an legal professional to discover his authorized choices.

“I feel the details listed below are what they’re,” stated Brad Sohn, who’s representing Hines. “No. 1, there’s completely nothing to counsel that Nyheim did something fallacious right here in any respect. And your coronary heart goes out to anybody that works as laborious as he does to be the participant he’s within the NFL.”

Each Hines and Sohn declined to additional talk about the specifics of the accident, citing impending litigation.

Even within the days after the incident, Hines didn’t assume he’d suffered a critical harm, definitely nothing that will price him any time on the soccer subject. Each knees have been a bit sore. He iced them that evening.

4 or 5 days later, Hines says, he headed to a close-by observe for a exercise. When he began to jog, his left knee ached. “Bizarre,” he instructed himself. “I used to be hit on my proper aspect.”

One thing was off. He known as his agent, who arrange an MRI.

The outcomes have been heartbreaking. Hines realized he’d torn the ACL and LCL in his left knee. His season was over earlier than it ever started.

Six days after teammate Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the sector in Cincinnati, Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in an emotional win over the Patriots. “One of many biggest days of my life,” he known as it. (Bryan M. Bennett / Getty Pictures)

Hines is aware of what everybody needed to be pondering the minute the information broke in late July: NFL participant damage in jet ski accident, out for the season.

He was most likely messing round. Being reckless. Being immature.

“It’s a horrible look, and that’s been actual laborious,” he says. “The chance I had (this season), and honestly, not even screwing round on the jet skis. If I used to be doing jumps or being silly, I wouldn’t even be actually upset (about this). Nevertheless it’s the truth that I actually wasn’t even using the jet skis. I used to be simply getting fuel.”

The lesson has been laborious to swallow. Hines is dedicated to his physique throughout the season, non secular in relation to his routine — needle remedy, hours in NormaTec compression boots, nightly massages, Epsom salt baths. Earlier than the accident, he’d solely missed one recreation in his five-year NFL profession, and he says he’s solely missed six relationship again to center college. He as soon as went a three-year stretch in Indianapolis with out lacking a single apply, ridiculously uncommon sturdiness for a working again.

All of the work he’s put in since he entered the league, the intention being to lengthen his prime so long as doable, after which this occurs: a freak, premature accident with grave penalties, one which price him a whole season and threatened his profession.

“It’s one thing I’ll develop from,” Hines says. “I wasn’t doing something fallacious, however I can’t management every part round me … that’s a place I received’t put myself in, at the very least till I’m executed taking part in.”

Hines’ surgical procedure was carried out by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Aug. 8; rehab started two days later. The primary few weeks have been utter agony: It damage to sleep, damage to maneuver, damage to do something. Slowly, he’s made progress. “I’m previous the worst of it,” he says, “however Lord have mercy, the worst was horrible.”

The Payments, unsurprisingly, weren’t thrilled upon getting phrase of the accident. Again within the spring, as offseason exercises have been ending up, since-fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey had made it clear to common supervisor Brandon Beane how excited he was to open up extra of the playbook to Hines in 2023. It’s what Beane envisioned when he made the take care of the Colts final yr, calling Hines a minute earlier than the commerce deadline and asking him, “We’re glad to have you ever, are you able to be on a flight in three hours?”

The frustration was evident when Beane met with reporters on the eve of coaching camp.

“It’s not like I can exit and discover one other Nyheim Hines,” he stated.

Hines had renegotiated his take care of the Payments earlier than the season, touchdown on a two-year settlement for $9 million by way of 2024, spreading some incentives — a signing bonus, exercise bonuses — out over time. However because the accident occurred away from the workforce facility, the Payments positioned him on the NFI checklist, which technically doesn’t require the workforce to pay him something.

Abruptly, Hines was out thousands and thousands of {dollars}.

After months of back-and-forth, the 2 sides agreed on a smaller sum with which each have been comfy.

“We have been each upset, each events have been upset,” Hines says. “I didn’t anticipate for that to occur. They didn’t anticipate for this to occur. We each had large plans for myself. They usually know I maintain myself accountable, and so they knew that that is gonna kill me greater than it kills them.”

The matter resolved, a sobering lesson realized, Hines expects to select up the place he left off in Buffalo subsequent yr.

“They handled me proper on the finish of the day and so they took care of it,” he says, “and I’m a member of the Buffalo Payments and I sit up for coming again there subsequent yr and incomes the proper to win.”

He misses it, all of it, even these lengthy, laborious, grueling Wednesday practices within the bitter chilly, those he used to detest.

“I’ll by no means take a Wednesday apply as a right once more,” Hines says.

He watches the Payments on “NFL Sunday Ticket.” He goes to rehab. He performs the guitar three hours a day, is working to get his actual property license and is taking on-line courses at North Carolina State, the place he’s a couple of hours away from incomes his bachelor’s diploma.

“I by no means took soccer as a right, really, however after this, I do know what this recreation means to me,” Hines says. “I’d do something to be again proper now.”

The Payments might use him. A classy Tremendous Bowl decide earlier than the season, the Payments are simply 6-5, at present exterior the AFC playoff image. After a two-game skid earlier this month, Dorsey was fired.

One factor Hines has pledged to himself: He’s not getting on one other Sea-Doo, and he’s not wake-surfing, till his NFL profession is over, full cease.

“I don’t wanna say it was unhealthy luck, as a result of I don’t actually imagine in luck, however hopefully the Lord’s simply attempting to arrange me for one thing, as a result of it’s been laborious,” Hines says. “I do know I’m not going to neglect what I went by way of, particularly the ache.

“This might be a heck of a narrative when it’s over, I’m gonna be certain that of it.”

(Illustration: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; pictures: Nic Antaya and Bryan M. Bennett / Getty Pictures)

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