Bruising hit, internal bleeding won't jar Jordan Poyer's love of football

Jordan Poyer, signed by the Bills this offseason, isn't looking back after a hit last season lacerated his kidney and bruised his liver. Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Rachel Bush's eyes were drifting. On the television in her Cleveland apartment, her boyfriend was playing on the road for the Browns against the Tennessee Titans. But for a few seconds, her attention floated to her bulldog, Tazz. The pooch was looking cute, and she did not want to miss the chance to capture the made-for-Instagram moment.

That was when Bush heard the words that darted her eyes back to the TV and rattled her Sunday afternoon.

"That is Jordan Poyer who is down on the field," Fox broadcaster Tom McCarthy said during the Oct. 16, 2016 game. "He took the lick from Antonio Andrews."

Poyer soon walked off the field with a trainer, prompting McCarthy to declare that the fourth-year safety was "OK" despite Andrews' vicious blindside block during a second-quarter punt. But as the game resumed and focus turned away from the injury, Poyer was coughing up blood on the sideline. He spent the next three days in the hospital.

More than five months later, Poyer has recovered from the internal bleeding caused by the impact of Andrews' illegal hit, which doctors compared to being involved in a car crash without wearing a seat belt. Poyer signed a four-year, $13 million deal with the Buffalo Bills last month that guarantees him $6 million, and if you think Poyer considered walking away from the game that damaged some of his vital organs last season, think again.

"Hell, no," he told ESPN by phone last week. "I love this game too much. I love being able to be out there with my teammates. I love the grind. I love what this game has brought me in my life. I met my fiancée through the game of football. I had my beautiful daughter through the game of football. It’s been a blessing to me. I never thought twice about retiring at all."

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One of the lowest points of the Browns' recent run of futility turned out to be one of the most important days of Poyer's life. Already having sunk to a 2-8 record on Nov. 30, 2015, Cleveland was embarrassed on Monday Night Football when their last-second, game-winning field-goal attempt was blocked and returned by Ravens safety Will Hill for a game-ending Baltimore touchdown.

As ESPN cameras panned the Browns' shocked sideline, they caught Poyer's face in disbelief. Eric Dunn, then a student at Florida Atlantic University, tweeted a screenshot of Poyer's face. The photo of the hazel-eyed Poyer, who could pass as basketball star Stephen Curry, quickly made the rounds on Twitter.

Bush, then a freshman at FAU with a burgeoning modeling career, liked what she saw. She followed Poyer on Twitter, he struck up a conversation and the two were soon dating. Last December, the couple became engaged and also welcomed their first child, Aliyah.

Poyer, 25, was hardly exaggerating by saying he owes his future wife and daughter to football, but that did not make that Sunday afternoon last October any easier for his young family.

Bush was at home that day in Cleveland, pregnant with her daughter as she took a semester off from college. She asked her father, Tony, to travel to Nashville's Nissan Stadium to watch Poyer play. He had a bird's-eye view from the stands as Poyer chased after Titans punt returner Marc Mariani. Andrews, who sprinted from outside Poyer's field of vision, lowered his left shoulder into Poyer's chest, tossing his body almost five yards downfield as the crowd reacted with a collective bellow.

"I was just in shock when I saw that replay of that hit," Rachel Bush told ESPN. "I was like, ‘Oh my God, is he even alive?’ Like, ‘What’s going to happen at this point?'"

As an official's yellow flag sat on the field to signal Andrews' illegal blindside block, Poyer was on his knees and grabbing at his helmet. He rolled over onto his back and yanked his helmet off, revealing a grimacing face. By the time a Browns trainer reached Poyer, he was back on his knees, his head planted against the turf in pain.

Poyer thought he just had the wind knocked out of him. A Philadelphia Eagles seventh-round pick in 2013, Poyer eventually got his feet and walked to the bench area, where he started to throw up blood. By then, Rachel Bush was frantically calling and texting Poyer, the shock of the situation causing her to ignore the fact that his phone was packed away in the locker room. Her father was able to keep an eye on Poyer on the bench using the camera lens of someone near him in the crowd. After seeing Poyer leave for the tunnel, he descended into the base of the stadium. An ambulance's sirens signaled the severity of the injury.

Less than an hour after the hit, Poyer lay in a hospital bed when he finally connected with Rachel over FaceTime. Poyer was downplaying the injury, but his girlfriend was not convinced. She could tell he was in pain, and for good reason: According to Poyer, he suffered a lacerated kidney and bruised liver, with bleeding around both organs.

"Say I were to get hit like that, tell the doctors I was fine and I didn’t have any symptoms or anything," Poyer said. "If I were to get hit in that same spot, it’s internal bleeding. It’s your kidney. It’s a vital organ. It could have been a lot worse. [The doctors] told me maybe a half of an inch lower, half an inch higher and it could have definitely been life-threatening. So I say it to everybody: It’s definitely a blessing in disguise how it happened. Just to be able to continue to play the game, it’s a blessing."

Tony Bush stayed by Poyer's side in the intensive care unit as the Browns' medical staff broke the news that his season, only six games old, would be ended by the hit. Despite the prognosis, Poyer was packing his bags and ready to leave the hospital.

"I'm sitting there and like, ‘You’re not going anywhere,’ because I’ve been in accidents," Tony Bush recalled telling Poyer. "He was ready to go."

As Poyer remained in the hospital, a stir arose when Andrews, the Titans' backup running back, posted a video of his hit on Instagram with a caption, "Relentless." The perceived lack of contrition from Andrews set off a back-and-forth between the two players on Twitter.

"He got flagged for the play, so you wouldn’t normally tweet nothing like that, or anything," Poyer said last week. "Especially if he got flagged. I see it as a kind of a dirty play, or I did at the beginning. Obviously I was frustrated; I was upset. He ended my season. And then he gonna tweet something like that. It was kind of a slap in the face to me.

"The way I see it, the NFL, it’s a brotherhood. You know what I’m saying? I mean, yeah, we’re out there every Sunday, but at the end of the day, he never reached out to me one time, saying, ‘Hey, sorry,’ or whatever it was. If it was vice versa, roles reversed, I kind of would have reached out to somebody or reached out to him. Everybody’s not like that. I take it for what it is. It is what it is. It’s a football play, so I’m not mad at that. It really was more kind of him bragging about the whole hit. That’s kind of what got me."

"It's a football play, so I'm not mad at that. It really was more kind of him bragging about the whole hit. That's kind of what got me."
Bills safety Jordan Poyer, on Antonio Andrews' post on social media about the illegal hit that ended Poyer's season.

When Poyer returned to Cleveland, frustration set in. He was ordered to sit down and do nothing for a few weeks, a tall task for a man whom Rachel Bush described as wanting to "go, go, go all the time." Even when Poyer was cleared to begin walking, he was unable to lift objects or train until January. Rachel, who was in the latter stages of her pregnancy, had to remind her soon-to-be fiancé to take it slow in his recovery.

"I was worried; I’m not going to lie," she said. "That is his career, so, OK, what could happen? This is his job. It’s almost like losing your job and then what do you do at that point? I was worried about that."

Poyer will begin the latest chapter of his career Monday in Buffalo, when the Bills begin offseason workouts under new coach Sean McDermott. Despite the injury, Poyer craves the chance to continue playing the game he loves.

"Once [the injury is] healed, there’s no risk anymore," he said.

But while those around Poyer are excited about his return to play, some fear remains.

"I’m still a little nervous," Rachel Bush said. "Like, what’s going to happen this season? I just want him to be safe. But that’s football. Safe and football don’t go together, especially at his position."