Buffalo sportswriter John Wawrow and national football writer Rob Maaddi scored two big wins in the days following Buffalo Bills’ defensive back Damar Hamlin’s shocking collapse on the field from cardiac arrest in the first quarter of a nationally broadcast NFL game.
As doctors released a statement saying that Hamlin was making remarkable progress and was neurologically intact, Wawrow got exclusive quotes from Hamlin’s agent saying that the player was awake and was able to grip hands with family members. Major news outlets jumped on the AP scoop, including SportsCenter on ESPN, and the story was updated with collaboration from news reporter Carolyn Thompson with details from doctors.
Later that day, Maaddi scored the biggest exclusive of the news cycle. As Hamlin’s condition continued to improve, the NFL was still faced with a difficult decision: what to do with the game between the Bills and Bengals, two playoff-bound teams, which had been stopped in the first quarter.
The league was meeting behind closed doors to discuss different scenarios. Maaddi had two trusted sources inside those meetings and broke the news at 2:34 p.m. on Thursday that the NFL had decided to not resume the game. AP beat every outlet by a whopping 3.5 hours with the news.
Others were forced to cite the AP. The story drew over 520,000 page views on AP News, with 70 percent coming from search traffic, a testament to the extraordinary search ranking built by the win based on speed, sources and prep.
The wins also went beyond Maaddi and Wawrow’s scoops: AP photo coverage resonated for days afterward. Indianapolis-based photographer Darron Cummings and freelancers Jeff Dean and Josh Bickel captured powerful key images, including the play before Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, and the scenes of emotion that followed. Their images illustrated not only Hamlin’s treatment by emergency personnel but the shocked and heartbroken reaction of players and fans.
Cummings sifted through hundreds of images to produce an outstanding record of the dramatic event. He also directed photographers as the story unfolded, dispatching one of the photographers to the hospital to cover the growing gathering of fans at the vigil outside that added to the coverage inside the stadium.
Their images continue to be widely used throughout the U.S.
For scoops on a highly competitive story and images that resonated widely, Wawrow, Maaddi, Cummings, Dean and Bickel win this week’s 2nd Best of the Week award.