FRISCO, Texas — The moment was created for the two of them.
Fresh off the announcement Wednesday night that DeMarcus Ware and Darren Woodson were named finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Cowboys arranged to have both former players come to The Star in Frisco for an impromptu press conference to discuss their excitement, and chances of getting to Canton.
But like most things involving the NFL this week, their personal news took a backseat.
Ware and Woodson opened their press conference to speak on Damar Hamlin, the Bills safety who suffered a scary injury Monday night that led to a cardiac arrest on the field and put him hospitalized in critical condition. As of Thursday's afternoon press conference, the news on Hamlin has improved dramatically, lifting spirits around the league.
But it didn't stop the two Cowboys legends from sharing their sentiments.
"We just wanted to recognize and send our prayers to Damar Hamlin himself and his family," Woodson said on a stage next to Ware. "We're very casual. You always hear the words 'we're praying for you.' But speaking for both of us, let's be intentional about this. Just saying it casually that 'we're paying for you' is one thing. But actually, getting on your knees and praying is another thing. This thing really rattled me, and I've been playing this game for 20-something years. I've never seen anything like it. I'm still a little emotional about what took place."
Ware said he was "lost for words" on the situation, and shared his own experiences as a player, that included the 2009 game against the Chargers when Ware suffered a neck injury that had him on the field for several minutes before being carted off. While Ware's injury proved to be only a scare, it's a frightening scene that hasn't been forgotten and another example how sacred these moments are for athletes and their families.
"I know what it feels to be on the football field laying down and not being about to move," Ware said with a long pause. "So when Darren says 'I'm praying for you," we really are praying for you. I know this (press conference) is an opportunity to talk about us, but not just us, but the players in general. This is a great opportunity for us to say that we are grateful and thankful for the many years we've had to play … and the opportunity have a life-changing opportunity from a resume that we said we wanted to etch our names in the star of the Dallas Cowboys. And we're there. We're there at that next step."
Just like Ware was able to get up from his injury in 2009 and actually play six days later against the Saints in a game that was one of the most dramatic individual performances in Cowboys history, these current players and the rest of the league must find a way to do the same this week as the NFL wraps up Week 18 of the regular season.
"I don't think you block out the things that happened, but you harness it as a team," Ware said. "You say, 'we're going to put this helmet on and these pads on and protect each other for what we're going to do as gladiators in this coliseum we call a stadium.' We're doing this for Damar. That's why I would put the helmet on. It wouldn't be for a win. It wouldn't be to play football. It would be to make a statement. We're doing it for a bigger cause."
Woodson added to that, speaking on the overall mentality it takes to play the violent game of football.
"It's what you do … it's what football players have been doing since Day 1," Woodson said. "You know the risks that are out there. We're going to pray for Damar Hamlin and his family. But we're cut from this cloth and you can ask some of the guys out on the field, yeah they're thinking about it, but they're going to walk out there and put the cleats on and the helmet on and went back to work. It's just part of who you are."