Injured Saints chain crew member discusses his recovery, Alvin Kamara’s gift, more

Injured Saints chain crew member discusses his recovery, Alvin Kamara's gift, more
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During his nine years as a member of the Saints chain crew, Nick Piazza has learned to keep his head on a swivel during games. But despite his vigilance, he never had a chance on Sunday.

One instant, Alvin Kamara was racing toward him on the sideline. The next, Piazza was lying face-first on the Superdome turf, his left leg grotesquely contorted sideways at the knee, intense pain shooting through his body.

In a split-second, Piazza’s world literally turned upside down. He went from anonymous sideline observer to celebrity. A day that began routinely with a 10 a.m. check-in at the Superdome ended in the emergency room at University Hospital.

“I never thought anything like this would happen to me,” Piazza said.

I reached Piazza on Wednesday night at his home in Harvey, where he was recuperating from the accident with members of his family. During a 40-minute phone conversation, he described the life-changing sequence of events that took place late in the second quarter of the Detroit Lions’ 33-28 victory over the Saints.

Piazza’s job on Sunday was to position the bright red mat and pylon marker on the line to gain at the end of the 10-yard first down chain. The pylon contains a camera for the FOX national TV broadcast. It’s a mostly thankless job that tends to get handed down from generation to generation. Piazza’s uncle, Tony Piazza, worked on the crew from the Saints’ inception and was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2014. The tradeoff to the $50-a-game paycheck is the front-row vantage point to some of the world’s finest athletes.

“I’ve always loved the Saints,” Piazza said. “There’s nothing better than being right there.”

With 6:03 left in the second quarter on Sunday, the Saints trailed the Lions 21-7 and broke the huddle for a third-and-3 play at their own 17-yard line. Piazza was positioned in his usual spot on the sideline, a few yards behind the pylon marker. Kamara took a pitch from quarterback Derek Carr and sprinted left toward the Lions sideline, where Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes lowered his shoulder into his back and shoved him toward the boundary. The force of the blow sent Kamara careening headfirst toward the sideline.

In the mad scramble, down judge Jerod Phillips temporarily blocked the vision of Piazza, who, by now, had instinctively backpedaled a good 6 yards from the playing field. As Phillips ducked out of the way, Piazza’s worst nightmare was revealed: Kamara was flying right at him, low and hot. Piazza lowered his arms to brace for the impact, then, at the last second, tried to leap over the free-falling Kamara.

“I mistimed my jump,” Piazza said.

In the same instant that Piazza landed, the free-falling Kamara collided on top of his lower legs and feet. Something had to give from the physics of the high-speed crash. It was Piazza’s left knee.

Piazza heard a pop and felt the joint dislocate.

The pain was intense and immediate. He tried to bend his knee back into place, but it wouldn’t budge.

“I looked at it, and thought, ‘Aw, man. This is bad’,” he said.

A paramedic standing nearby rushed to his side, and told him, “Hang in there. We’ve got some help on the way.”

In seconds, an army of doctors and paramedics were crouched around him as he lay on his left side, writhing in pain.

“Shocked, scared, nervous, I was all those things,” he said. “I knew, this is not something that I can just get up and shake off.”

A few feet away at the front of the chain markers, Ronnie Kornick knew the injury was serious. In the decades that he’s worked and run the Saints chain crew, the 73-year-old Chalmette native has witnessed his share of sideline pileups, including a 2010 collision in which Courtney Roby knocked longtime chain crew member Al Nastasi unconscious. But this was worse — at least to witness.

“It was scary,” Kornick said. “Nick was screaming bad. It was tough to see.”

Piazza’s father, David Piazza, experienced similar feelings as he watched the televised broadcast of the game with wife, Brenda, and son David, Jr., at their home in Union City, Tenn.

“I was in shock,” the elder Piazza said. “They only showed it once on the TV, then they stopped the game for 15 minutes. That got me concerned. I felt helpless. How bad was it?”

As medics attended to Piazza, they offered words of encouragement and carefully rolled him to his back. They calmly pulled his leg downward and the joint slid back into place. They braced his leg in an air cast, swabbed his nostrils with fentanyl to relieve the pain, then lifted him onto a stretcher and carted him from the field. In the ambulance, he was attached to an IV, which delivered more pain relief during the six-block ride to nearby University Hospital.

“I remember thinking, there’s probably ligament damage, I’m gonna be out of work, I’m gonna need help, I’m looking at a long road to recovery,” he said. “All those things.”

The final damage: two torn ligaments, a fractured fibula and cartilage damage.

The good news: no arterial damage.

“That was the biggest concern,” Piazza said. “The doctor said when your knee is dislocated, there’s a main artery behind your knee that can get damaged. Fortunately, there wasn’t any damage.”

Piazza is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday at Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner.

Dr. Michael Hartman, the Saints orthopedic specialist, will conduct the 5-to-6-hour procedure, which will require him to replace Piazza’s torn anterior cruciate ligament and repair the fractured bone with a metal screw.

Piazza will be off his feet for a couple of weeks. He can begin to put pressure on his left leg in four to six weeks. An extensive physical therapy program awaits. In all, he is expected to miss about eight weeks of work at his job as a teacher at C.F. Rowley Alternative School in Chalmette. His 2023 season on the chain crew has prematurely come to an end.

Meantime, he has been inundated with calls, texts and messages from family, friends and concerned well-wishers, who witnessed the incident on TV.

A Saints fan from California sent a floral arrangement to the hospital. The Saints delivered a care package to his house on Wednesday with a signed No. 41 Alvin Kamara jersey and signed football with “Get well” wishes. Saints owner Gayle Benson reached out via text and email and sent an order of takeout food for the family. Care packages from the Chicago Bears and members of referee Clay Martin’s officiating crew are on the way.

“I was embarrassed at first,” he said. “I’m not used to being in the spotlight. But after a while, I realized, ‘Ain’t no hiding it now.’ It is what it is.”

Piazza had one final request as he prepared for surgery and worked to answer the hundreds of comments and well wishes on his and his family’s Facebook pages.

“I really appreciate the messages, care packages and medical treatment,” Piazza said. “And if you see Alvin, please tell him thanks. He signed a football and jersey for me. Very nice.”

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About Mary Weyand 36089 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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