When Ricardo Lockette stepped away from football in mid-May, he wasn't retiring due to a lack of skill or ambition. Lockette retired because he nearly died on the field last season.
During the Seahawks' Week 8 game against the Cowboys, Lockette sprinted down the field to cover a punt. He never made it down the field, because he was blindsided by the Cowboys' Jeff Heath. Lockette didn't get up. He didn't move.
Ricardo Lockette was drilled and appears to be out cold, hope he's ok pic.twitter.com/C5zdBzzwFX— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) November 1, 2015
He stayed down until a stretcher carried him off the field.
As Lockette told a group of Seattle-area firefighters in March, he would've died if he had stood up.
On Tuesday, Lockette shared more harrowing details about that hit. Writing for the Players' Tribune, Lockette revealed just how scary that moment was when he landed on the turf:
I hit the ground, and I heard the sound you never want to hear. When you have a brush with death, people always say you see a light. Well, I didn't see a light. I heard a noise. You know the noise I'm talking about -- like when you were a little kid, bored at a family party, and you ran your finger around the top of your auntie's wine glass. It's that weird, far-off ringing sound.
It was terrifying. I couldn't hear the crowd. I couldn't hear my teammates. That's when I knew it was bad.
Lockette went on to list the questions and fears that entered his mind in that moment, including "Am I about to die?" He then compared his situation to sleep paralysis:
In that moment, I was completely helpless. You know what it felt like? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? Imagine you wake up from a dream early in the morning, and you can hear everybody in your house making breakfast and talking and laughing, but you can't move. No matter how hard you try, you can't actually get up. You're stuck in between being asleep and being awake.
So you just lay there, trapped inside your own body while the world goes on around you. That's exactly what it felt like, except I wasn't in bed. I was at the 50-yard-line of Cowboys Stadium, surrounded by 90,000 fans.
I said to myself, "Lord just help me. I know that I'm here for a reason. If you help me off this ground, I'll change lives."
According to Lockette, this was the second time in his life that he said something like that. The first time involved getting a gun pulled on him.
After Lockette was carted off the field, he headed to the hospital, a ride that felt like forever for him. As he put it, " ten minutes feels like 10 days." But the worst part of the injury wasn't the hit itself or the minutes he spent on the turf or the ambulance ride to the hospital.
It was the moment he saw his daughter at the hospital:
It took me a good hour to compose myself before I told the nurse to let her in the room. That was more painful than the actual hit. That was the worst 60 minutes of my life.
Lockette would eventually recover and retire in May after recording 22 catches, 451 yards, and four touchdowns in his career. Still, he kept his perspective. And for that, he credited Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
According to Lockette, Carroll regularly told the team, "You live in a temporary fairy tale," meaning that football and the perks that come with it won't last forever. After Lockette retired, he gave all of his extra Seahawks gear to a homeless man.
When Heath, who ended Lockette's career with the hit, found out Lockette retired, he says he prayed for him. Speaking with the Dallas Morning News recently, Heath expressed optimism that Lockette would find something else to excel at.
"It sucks that was the outcome of the situation," Heath said. "I don't know him that well, but from what I heard about him, from what I can tell about how he plays, he's going to be good at whatever he does. And obviously he probably would have wanted to have played longer, but he'll find something I'm sure and he'll be great at it. It's kind of just unfortunate, but I think he knows that wasn't my intention and it was kind of just a freak deal and that's the risk that we take when we play this game."
Heath reached out to Lockette the day after the hit, but he hasn't spoken to Lockette since. He told the Dallas Morning News that the two players understood where they both came from.
Lockette's entire account, via the Players' Tribune, is worth a read.