After a scary scene on field last night involving the Bills' Damar Hamlin, NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa and NFL columnist Tom Rock discuss the events that took place. Credit: Newsday

The night everyone in football had been anticipating for weeks turned into the night everyone in football has been dreading for decades.

Monday’s game between the Bills and Bengals was supposed to be a showcase for two of the most entertaining teams in the NFL. Instead, shortly before 9 p.m., it became the illustration of some of the darkest repercussions the sport has been navigating for years, a reminder that the words “football” and “player safety” may be easily tied together in board rooms and broadcast booths but have a hard time coexisting on the turfs of reality.

Midway through the first quarter, about a half-hour after kickoff, a 24-year-old player made what looked to be a routine tackle, got back on his feet, adjusted his helmet, collapsed and needed lifesaving procedures on the field before being transported to a hospital.

Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin was in critical condition late Monday night, the league said, after the terrifying drama played out in front of thousands at the stadium and millions watching on television.

At close to 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Bills announced that Hamlin had suffered cardiac arrest after the hit, that his heartbeat was restored on the field and that he had been transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further testing and treatment. They said he was sedated and listed in critical condition.

No further updates were provided throughout the day on Tuesday.

While the clearly shaken community of the sport’s participants passed along their prayers en masse via social media and other avenues, it took an hour after the play for the NFL to officially postpone the remainder of the contest. At one point, after Hamlin was taken from the field by ambulance, there was talk on the broadcast of resuming the game after a five-minute period for the participants to gather themselves, but that clearly was not going to happen.

Both teams soon retreated to their locker rooms while the complicated and unprecedented logistics of putting the brakes on an NFL game went into motion.

In a conference call with the media late Monday night, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent — a former player himself — said there never were discussions about that five-minute ramp-up.

“It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive.”

Vincent further touted the actions of Sean McDermott of the Bills and Zac Taylor of the Bengals: “I thought the coaches led tonight. They led their locker rooms.”

There will need to be discussions and decisions made in the coming days about how the game will be accounted for in a season that has just one weekend of regular-season schedule remaining and division winners and playoff seedings to be determined. Monday night, rightly, was all about Hamlin’s health.

Even for a sport that has so often embraced its violent nature and next-man-up mentality, this was difficult to digest. Players and coaches are taught to be inured to injuries no matter how gruesome they may seem. Even as fans, we have become numb.

We’ve all seen legs twisted at unrecognizable angles, woozy players stumbling to the sideline (or back to the huddle) after ferocious hits. Heck, as ESPN broadcast the events live with commentators somberly voicing the seriousness of Monday’s developments, their commercial breaks touted upcoming games with clips that celebrated the collisions and physicality that draw so many to the sport.

This wasn’t a football injury. It was a football medical emergency.

That became clear as the doctors and other professionals from both sidelines sprinted onto the field with an urgency seldom seen. Radios were in use, arms were being waved and, according to multiple reports and the television broadcast, behind a wall of players, CPR was being administered and a defibrillator was used.

Frankly, it is a miracle that no one has died on the field of an NFL game since 1971, and even that instance — when Chuck Hughes collapsed during a game between the Lions and Bears — it wasn’t football that did him in. An autopsy later showed he suffered from undiagnosed arteriosclerosis and that it was a heart attack, not an opponent, that knocked him to the turf that day. He remains the only player ever to die during a game.

As the game has become faster and stronger in recent years, it has inched along the spectrum of risk, moving from titillating to terrifying to potentially fatal. Hamlin’s situation felt like the alarm clock that interrupts a sweet dream, and it certainly roused those who play the sport at the highest levels to the dangers they always knew were inherent in their occupations but had never come this close to witnessing firsthand.

The repercussions of Monday night will be long-lasting.

Whatever flawed protocol gave the teams the impression they had five minutes before returning to action — one thankfully abandoned quickly and apparently subverted by the refusal of the participants to adhere to it — will only exacerbate the chill between the players and the league and do little to help humanize an NFL that often is perceived as a heartless goliath, even with Vincent’s denial.

But even if it wasn’t five minutes, the countdown to the next NFL game kicking off on Saturday was at five days as Hamlin was ambulanced away. Just as it was hard to imagine the Bills and Bengals finishing their contest on Monday — the NFL said on Tuesday it would not be completed this week but offered no other scheduling updates — it was almost as hard to imagine those ensuing games taking place in the pall of Monday night.

Mostly, though, this served as a glaring reminder that the most popular American sport walks a thin line between recreation and recklessness, that the illusion of the entertainment it provides through gambling, fantasy leagues and just plain old-fashioned rooting interests only covers up the risks taken every day by those who step on the field.

That great curtain was destroyed on Monday night. It will take a while for all of us, players and fans, to process what we saw behind it.