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Joe Buck on Damar Hamlin, Year 1 of ‘Monday Night Football,’ and Dreaming About His Dad

The ESPN commentator joins to discuss his career and recent experience calling the Bills-Bengals game

2022 ABC Disney Upfront Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images,


Bryan is joined by ESPN’s Joe Buck to discuss his perspective on Damar Hamlin’s injury in the Bills-Bengals game. They touch on the booth’s immediate reaction to Hamlin’s injury, the responsibility of an announcer in moments of uncertainty, and how the players and coaches handled the situation. Later, they revisit Buck’s first year on Monday Night Football, discuss preparation for the upcoming playoff game between Tampa Bay and the Dallas Cowboys, and recall his weekly dreams with visits from his late father.

Host: Bryan Curtis
Guest: Joe Buck
Associate Producer: Erika Cervantes

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In the transcript below, Bryan Curtis and Joe Buck discuss Buck’s experience in the announcer’s booth as first responders tended to Damar Hamlin, and the caution he wanted to take before telling viewers at home that Hamlin was receiving CPR.

Bryan Curtis: You told viewers at home that he was receiving CPR after, I think, the third commercial that you guys had taken.

Joe Buck: Yeah.

Curtis: Was there a lag between you being able to see that happening on the field, and you delivering that information to the public? Just knowing that, “As soon as I say this, everybody at home is going to be thinking about this completely differently”?

Buck: Yes. Yeah. I wanted to be really sure that what I saw was actually what was happening. The worst thing you can do, I mean, you take something on a small level—and you’re taught as a kid, when you get into broadcasting, don’t make assumptions about injuries, and we’re not talking about something of this degree. There have been many times where I’ve seen a guy limp off the field and you’re like, “Well, he’s obviously down with a leg injury,” be it ankle, or knee, or whatever, and then you read the next day that it was a dislocated shoulder. I mean, you can’t make that assumption, or really any.

So because we weren’t in there, and because nobody’s saying anything—and rightly so—to give us, the network, real-time updates along those lines, I just wanted to be sure, and I think I kind of took a straw poll around those on my headset, whether it’s the guys in the booth, Phil [Dean] and Jimmy [Platt] in the truck, Lisa [Salters] down on the sideline: “They were giving him CPR, right?” I mean, it’s funny how your brain starts to work, and you’re like, “All right. It’s CPR. OK. That’s what that’s called. And that’s what we just saw.” And so, yeah. I wanted to be 100 percent sure that if I said that, that is what happened.

Curtis: Because as soon as you utter those words, all of us sitting at home go, “Oh, wait, this is not a conventional football injury. This is now a matter of life and death that’s happening before us.”

Buck: Yeah. And I realize the power of that. Doesn’t matter who’s sitting there saying it. The conversation, and the thoughts, and the prayers, and everything else that follows changes the minute that sentence comes out of your mouth. So that was certainly, I mean, you don’t want to be wrong about anything, but you sure as heck don’t want to be wrong about that.

Curtis: Does the idea of a catastrophic injury sit somewhere in your head when you’re calling a football game?

Buck: No. It never has. I don’t think it’s ever been in my mind, like, “Well, you better be prepared in case something along these lines happens.” I’ve never gone there mentally. Maybe that’s a shortcoming. I don’t know. Well, I’m more prepared now than I think I ever have been, but you don’t know until you sit there and do it. I don’t know that there’s any class for that. I don’t know that I could describe what that feeling’s like to anybody, when you’re sitting there with a live microphone in front of your mouth, and you’re seeing that with your own eyes.

So yeah, I don’t think I’d ever really thought of anything along the lines of catastrophic injury. I think back, I’m old enough to remember the Joe Theismann leg break, and what that did to me as a viewer watching it, and how jarring that was.

And you’re doing TV. So I think about Kevin Harlan, who I spent a lot of time with that particular night, who I’ve known forever, was doing the radio that night, and what he was maybe having to describe. TV is a different thing, as we’ve talked about many times. So you can just let the pictures carry it. There’s not much that you can or should say, in my opinion, when all that’s going on. The worst thing you can do is to start speculating, which is another word, a nicer word for guessing, and trying to apply your own definitions to something that in some ways is kind of indescribable, really. So it was, yeah. It was intense.

Curtis: You said the words, “There’s really nothing to say,” on the air that night, at least once, and maybe a couple of times. You’d mentioned that the job changes in an instance like that. So what is the job, as you see it, in that moment?

Buck: I don’t know. I don’t know that I have the right answer for that. I don’t know that what I could conjure up right now is accurate, other than I feel like once that happened, and once it was obvious that this was not a normal situation, I was flooded with texts from not just friends of mine, but my daughters, and I kind of had them in the front of my mind, and my family in the front of my mind, and how I would describe this to them. And just taking it step by step, and not being hysterical, not being somebody who’s going to start bringing in historical references of other people who have had similar situations on the field or whatever. I just don’t think that’s the time for that.

So I think the answer to your question is, just be a human being. This is about another person who’s in terrible distress down on the field. And I think, I’m sure you’re going to ask me about the five-minute thing with the league, and I understand why you want to ask me that. I think the frustrating thing to me after this is kind of settled, is that what took place on that field is overlooked, and it shouldn’t be.

I mean, I was thinking about it today, knowing I was coming on with you. We all know that Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series in 1956. What we saw that night on that field in front of 60-plus thousand people and a national television audience was perfection, the way that was handled on the field. I’m not talking about the aftermath, but being there, and witnessing it, and seeing the teamwork, and knowing that they were prepared for that, and God knows how many times they’ve run through that same scenario. “Well, we got to run through it again. If this happens ...”

Because I’ve been told by people in the medical industry that even in an emergency room, that might not have been handled as well as it was handled on that field, and that’s what saved his life. By them getting oxygen in him—and from everybody I’ve talked to, and I’m the last thing from a medical expert—but the almost immediate introduction of oxygen into his system is what has allowed him to now not only get out of Cincinnati and get to Buffalo, but get out of the hospital in Buffalo and get home. And to do that with that medical team that was down there, with that pressure, who knows how any of us would ever react in that intense of a situation. And they nailed it.

And I’m just so thankful, and I know the league is, and I know the Hamlin family is, and the Bills are, and everybody is, that that was handled as well as it was on the field, in serious, awful situations.

Curtis: And your frustration you were talking about is just that that gets overshadowed by all the other things that swirl around the game, and the intrigues, and stuff like that?

Buck: Yeah. I just think that that’s the main story, is that throughout all of this, and whatever has been the recounting of things in real time, and everybody wanting to assign blame, and “Did it take too long to cancel the game? Did the guys on TV screw it up?” I feel like it was handled extremely well. I’m not talking about us. I’m talking about by the people on the field. That’s like landing a plane on the Hudson, in my mind. And that may be overstating it, but I’m not sure that it is. And I think that that has gotten lost a little bit. Certainly they had their moment on the field before the game in Buffalo this past week, and Sean McDermott talked about it in his initial press conference, but I’m just in awe of what was done on that field that night.