COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Donald Parham experienced his most satisfying moment of the season Sunday when he caught first touchdown pass in nearly 14 months.
One night later though, the Los Angeles Chargers tight end was feeling conflicted emotions when he saw Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin being loaded into an ambulance after suffering cardiac arrest in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Parham knows all too well what it is like being taken off the field on a stretcher after a frightening incident. During the fourth quarter of a Dec. 16, 2021, game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the back of Parham's head slammed into the ground in the back of the end zone when he was trying to catch a pass from Justin Herbert.
The memories about that play came flooding back for Parham as he saw the situation unfold with Hamlin.
“Seeing him laid out on the field like that it definitely took something out of me a little bit because I’ve been there. It was very confusing just to collect my emotions and how I felt,” Parham said. “I caught myself feeling like that was me last year and feeling kind of hopeless. It was crazy overall. It really hurt seeing something like that.”
After the play, a camera zoomed in on Parham’s face, showing his eyes closed and mouth open. A teammate briefly tried to move Parham’s left arm, but it was frozen in a bent position.
Trainers and medical personnel removed Parham’s facemask from his helmet and placed him on a backboard. Parham’s arms were shaking while he was taken off the field as concerned players from both teams watched.
Parham was taken to the hospital for tests and was diagnosed with a concussion, which kept him out for the remainder of the 2021 seasons.
Parham returned to the team during the spring and participated in offseason drills. But he has been plagued by hamstring issues that have limited him to five games.
Since coming back Dec. 18 against Tennessee, Parham has five receptions for 46 yards.
Besides his 3-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Rams to put the Chargers up by three scores, Parham provided a key block on Austin Ekeler's 72-yard touchdown run during the second quarter.
“Football has tested his patience. To see him go out like that and play a really complete game — I thought that he blocked extremely well and was a factor in the passing game. To score a touchdown, a big red-area touchdown for us, it was a big moment for him," coach Brandon Staley said.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that Parham's attitude has been steady throughout the season despite being beset by injuries.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve kind of felt like he’s a guy that’s just waiting to blow up and become a bigger part of our offensive and become a bigger star in the NFL," Lombardi said. "Injuries and some bad luck is has kept him from doing that, so it’s good to see him get back on track. Hopefully, you can continue to see big things from him.”
The 6-foot-8, 237-pound Parham showed his first two seasons that he can be a dependable target for quarterback Justin Herbert. With Gerald Everett also having a solid season, Parham’s tall frame and ability to make big catches in the red zone make both tight ends important factors for Sunday's regular-season finale at Denver and going into the playoffs.
The Chargers (10-6) should know by kickoff against the Broncos if they have secured the AFC's fifth seed. If the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles would be the fifth seed and the Ravens sixth seed regardless of what happens in Denver.
However, a Baltimore victory would mean the Chargers would also have to beat the Broncos to secure the fifth seed. Both teams would finish 11-6, but Los Angeles would win the tiebreaker by having a better conference record.
“It’s very important that we just stick to what we know, making sure that we’re taking each week as it is and preparing for the game ahead,” Parham said.
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