The first two weeks after surgery were the worst, the pain was so excruciating, so incessant, that Nyheim Hines couldn’t even imagine getting out of bed.
Just the thought of ordering takeout made him shudder: that would require limping to the front door of his apartment to get it. No thank you. It’s not happening. On trips to rehab, he would grip the armrests of the back seat, bracing for any bump on the road, fearing that even the smallest of him would make his knee throb. In the hospital, when the doctors asked him to straighten his leg, he wanted to shake his head and refuse, convinced that the stitches would open at that moment.
“Honestly, there were times I just wanted to scream and cry,” Hines said Atletico, speaking publicly for the first time about his final months. “It was just rehab, man, but it was tough as hell.”
This wasn’t supposed to be what August was going to be like for Hines, the Buffalo Bills’ shifty sixth-year running back and special teams standout. He was supposed to help a contender prepare for a Super Bowl run.
After the November 2022 trade from the Colts, after his two touchdown returns brought the house down in Orchard Park in the regular-season finale — six days after teammate Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field in Cincinnati – and after an expanded role in offseason workouts , Hines was starting to feel like he was part of something special in Buffalo.
I spent last season studying the playbook for two hours every night; now he knew it very well, scoring 100s on quizzes passed out by the coaches. She no longer needed her position coach, Kelly Skipper, to translate play calls from what her old coaches in Indianapolis called them. He’s seen his reps grow in practice. In Hines’ mind, 2023 would be the breakout season he had been chasing since he entered the league.
Then, two days before the Fourth of July, he jumped into a Sea-Doo and missed a year of his prime.
The most devastating part?
All he was doing, Hines insists, was filling it with gas. The journey lasted a few minutes, tops.
It wasn’t the accident but the surgery that left Hines with what he calls “two weeks of the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.” Meanwhile, he found himself in a brief but bitter contract dispute with the Bills.
“You know what I tell people?” Hines says, going back to that day. “I literally tell people that my life is like the movie ‘Final Destination’.”
He hadn’t been on the Sea-Doo at all that day. In fact, he hadn’t been on top of us once all weekend.
Hines prefers wakesurfing, skirting the waves right behind the boat, and that’s what he was doing for nearly two hours on July 2. He was renting a house with some friends on Lake Norman, just north of Charlotte, and it was nice to let everyone else whiz around the water on the Sea-Doos. The retreat would begin in a matter of weeks.
But after a while, as the Sea-Doo was running low on fuel, Hines thought he’d skip one and fill up on gas. He was the only professional athlete in the group, the one with the $9 million contract, and he wanted to help.
“People said the gas was low,” he recalls, “and I was being a good boy. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll get one and pay.'”
After filling the tank at the dock, Hines began driving the Sea-Doo home, trying to get back on the boat. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s accident report, Hines stopped in a no-wake zone behind a line of boats. He didn’t go far. A boat was coming in his direction, so he tried to avoid it.
“I tried to move to the right of the boat,” Hines told police that day, according to the accident report. “As I moved to the right, I was hit.”
Another Sea-Doo crashed into his right side, throwing Hines into the water.
According to the report, it was Dylan Peebles, a close friend and former track and field teammate of Hines at North Carolina State, who was driving the other Sea-Doo. Peebles was later charged with careless and reckless operation and with not meeting the proper navigational safety requirements.
“I was driving straight and I didn’t see a boat ahead,” Peebles told police, according to the report. “Then my friend saw it and she turned around and I hit him as she turned around. “She was going slow (and) I was going 20 miles an hour.”
According to the report, Peebles was traveling between 20 and 40 miles per hour and the combined damage from the two Sea-Doos was approximately $17,000. Within two months of the accident, Hines hired an attorney to explore his legal options.
“I think the facts here are what they are,” said Brad Sohn, who represents Hines. “NO. 1, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Nyheim did anything wrong here. And your thoughts go out to anyone who works as hard as he does to be the player he is in the NFL.”
Both Hines and Sohn declined to further discuss the specifics of the incident, citing impending litigation.
Even in the days following the accident, Hines didn’t think he had suffered a serious injury, certainly nothing that would cost him time on the football field. Both of his knees were a little sore. I iced them that night.
Four or five days later, Hines says, he headed to a nearby track for a workout. When he started running, his left knee hurt. “Strange,” he said to himself. “I was hit in the right side.”
Something was wrong. She called his agent, who arranged an MRI.
The results were heartbreaking. Hines learned he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee. His season was over before it even began.
Hines knows what everyone must have been thinking when the news broke in late July: NFL player injured in jet ski accident, out for season.
He was probably joking. Be reckless. Being immature.
“It looks terrible, and it was really difficult,” she says. “The opportunity I had (this season), and to be honest, I didn’t even play with the jet skis. If I was jumping or stupid, I wouldn’t even be mad (about it). But the thing is, I literally wasn’t even riding the jet skis. “I was just getting gas.”
The lesson was difficult to digest. Hines is devoted to his body during the season, religious when it comes to his routine: needle therapy, hours in NormaTec compression boots, nightly massages, Epsom salt baths. Before the accident, he had missed only one game in his five-year NFL career, and says he has only missed six dating back to middle school. He once spent three years in Indianapolis without missing a single practice, a ridiculously rare feat for a running back.
All the work he’s done since he entered the league, with the aim of prolonging his prime as long as possible, and then this happens: a freak and untimely accident with serious consequences, costing him an entire season and put his career at risk.
“It’s something I’ll grow out of,” Hines says. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I can’t control everything around me… it’s a position I won’t put myself in, at least until I’m done playing.”
Hines’ surgery was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on August 8; rehabilitation began two days later. The first few weeks were total agony: it hurts to sleep, it hurts to move, it hurts to do anything. He slowly made progress. “I got through the worst,” she says, “but Lord, have mercy, the worst was terrible.”
The Bills, of course, weren’t thrilled when they heard about the accident. In the spring, as offseason workouts were winding down, since-fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey made it clear to general manager Brandon Beane how excited he was to open up the playbook more to Hines in 2023. It’s what Beane envisioned when he made the deal with the Colts last year, calling Hines one minute before the trade deadline and asking, “We’re happy to have you, can you be on a flight in three hours?”
The disappointment was evident when Beane met with reporters on the night of training camp.
“It’s not like I can go out and find another Nyheim Hines,” he said.
Hines had renegotiated his deal with the Bills before the season, landing on a two-year deal for $9 million through 2024, doling out some incentives — a signing bonus, workout bonus — over time. But because the incident occurred far from the team facility, the Bills placed him on the NFI list, which technically doesn’t require the team to pay him anything.
Suddenly, Hines had lost millions of dollars.
After months of back and forth, the two sides agreed on a lower sum that they both felt comfortable with.
“We were both shocked, both sides were shocked,” Hines says. “I didn’t expect this to happen. They didn’t expect this to happen. We both had big plans for me. And they know that I hold myself responsible, and they know that this will kill me more than it will kill them.
With that issue resolved, a sobering lesson learned, Hines expects to pick up where he left off in Buffalo next year.
“They treated me well at the end of the day and took care of me,” he says, “and I’m a member of the Buffalo Bills and I can’t wait to get back there next year and earn the right to win. “
He misses everything, even those long, hard, exhausting Wednesday workouts in the biting cold, the ones he used to hate.
“I will never take Wednesday training for granted again,” says Hines.
See the scores on “NFL Sunday Ticket.” He goes to rehab. He plays guitar three hours a day, is working on getting his real estate license and is taking online classes at North Carolina State, where he is hours away from earning his degree.
“I’ve never taken football for granted, really, but after this, I know what this game means to me,” Hines says. “I would do anything to come back now.”
The Bills could use him. A trendy Super Bowl pick heading into the season, the Bills are just 6-5, currently out of the AFC playoff picture. After a two-game skid earlier this month, Dorsey was fired.
Hines promised himself one thing: He won’t get on another Sea-Doo or wakesurf until his NFL career is over, period.
“I don’t want to say it was bad luck, because I don’t really believe in luck, but I hope the Lord is just trying to prepare me for something, because it’s been tough,” Hines says. “I know I won’t forget what I went through, especially the pain.
“This is going to be an amazing story when it’s over, I’ll make sure of that.”
(Illustration: Samuel Richardson / Atletico; photo: Nic Antaya and Bryan M. Bennett / Getty Images)