When Buffalo Bills defensive end Leon Seals broke into the New England Patriots' backfield, he intended to sack quarterback Steve Grogan but not slam him. The Bills learned before Sunday's game that Grogan had signed a document acknowledging a neurosurgeon's advice not to play football anymore because of a spinal problem. Seals for one took mercy and "low-keyed it a lot."
Seals is 6 feet 5 and 267 pounds; Grogan 6-4 and 210.
"I'm just going to be honest about it," Seals said. "I wasn't going in there for the kill."
The Patriots forced Grogan to sign the acknowledgement to give them legal protection should he suffer serious injury. Grogan, in his 16th NFL season, said four other doctors told him he faced no greater risk than any other player.
"This is a business," Grogan said. "We compromised on the language so that everybody was comfortable with it."
Seals said several Bills defenders talked about Grogan's frail state before the game. "Everybody said, "I just hope I'm not the one to go in and hit him and have him stay down. If I ever get a sack, I hope he gets back up.' "
The Bills sacked Grogan three times, once by Seals.
On the second-quarter play, Seals circled the Patriots' protective pocket and broke in on Grogan just as the quarterback looked up. Seals simply wrapped his arms around Grogan and tackled him.
"I went back there and got him, but I wasn't saying, "I'm going to kill you' and that kind of stuff," Seals said. "It's a touchy situation, because as a defensive lineman, you're taught to go in there and rip a person's head off.
"But in a situation like that, you have to kind of low-key it. You have to have respect for a guy like that."
Seals said any player lives with the possibility that he could cause permanent injury to another player.
"With any kind of hit, the guy could go down for good," he said. "And for you to deliver that hit, it's going to be something you're going to live with the rest of your life."
Bills coach Marv Levy said the game film showed that Seals "played very hard." In fact, the team awarded Seals a game ball for his efforts.
But Levy said Seals "was aware that there was some type of medical concern and he certainly would have felt badly if he'd been responsible for injuring" Grogan.
The Bills "have respect for Grogan," Levy said. "He's accomplished a great deal. They have respect for his courage and I think they were reflecting that in their words."
Several other Bills defenders, though, said they didn't treat Grogan any differently.
Linebacker Darryl Talley said he "never even thought twice about it."
Grogan, he said, "is a very competitive, feisty guy. If you give him an inch, he'll take three yards. He wouldn't want you to back off of him."
"I've seen the guy come out and play when they said he wouldn't play at all," Talley said. "And he comes out and plays and even runs the ball. There's a lot to be said for a man like that."
Linebacker Cornelius Bennett said he didn't know about the document before the game but was glad he didn't deliver a disabling blow.
"It's like the pitcher who gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run," Bennett said. "You don't want to be the one to do something like that."