Injuries reported at Cowboys' facility

Updated: May 3, 2009, 5:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

IRVING, Texas -- Whenever a storm hits while the Dallas Cowboys are inside their practice facility, the sound of rain pelting the tent-like structure can drown out conversation. No matter the noise, safety rarely was an issue -- until Saturday.

Winds that were just shy of tornado strength, and perhaps stronger, ripped through the roof during a rookie minicamp practice, essentially popping the so-called bubble. Between the falling debris and the furor to get out, special teams coach Joe DeCamillis broke his back and 11 more people were hospitalized.

About 60 others felt lucky to escape with only cuts and bruises.

"I saw it coming down and didn't have time to react," secondary coach Dave Campo said. "I hit the ground and was able to get back up."

DeCamillis, hired a few months ago, is likely to need surgery to fix "a couple of broken vertebrae" in his lower back but is expected to recover, said his father-in-law, Dan Reeves, the longtime NFL coach.

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When you look at the destruction, it's hard to imagine how everyone survived, writes ESPN.com's Matt Mosley. Blog.

• More from Cowboys' facility

"They say he's lucky not to be paralyzed," said Reeves. The coach was seen being removed on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.

DeCamillis was among 10 people taken away by emergency vehicles. Two others went to hospitals on their own.

Cowboys assistant scout Rich Behm underwent surgery on his spinal cord late Saturday night at Parkland Memorial Hospital, according to ESPN.com's Matt Mosley.

Others with serious injuries included a person with a head injury, one with an open fracture below the knee and someone who was impaled with metal, said Tommy Gonzalez, Irving's city manager.

Names of the injured were not released due to privacy issues. Players were told not to discuss the episode with reporters.

"This worked out very, very well from a medical point of view," said Dr. Paul Pepe, head of emergency medical services for Dallas County. "Right now, I think we don't have anybody who is in a life-threatening situation."

Assistant coach Brett Maxie suffered a laceration on his leg, a source told Mosley. Team scout Chris Hall suffered multiple arm injuries after being trapped underneath the frame, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

"We're lucky no one got electrocuted with all the water in the building," head coach Wade Phillips said. "A couple of players had minor injuries, but they were all right."

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said all players and coaches were accounted for.

Owner Jerry Jones made a Sunday morning visit to the Cowboys headquarters to survey the damage.

According to Dallas Morning News, Jones had been in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby and cut short his visit to fly back to Dallas on Saturday night.

Just before the facility was flattened, winds were clocked at 64 mph, a single mph shy of the threshold for a weak tornado. However, National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Woodall said a "microburst" may have pushed the wind beyond 70 mph at the top of the structure. A microburst also was to blame for a 1985 Delta Airlines crash at nearby DFW airport that killed 137 people.

"The fact that there weren't more injuries is rather miraculous," Woodall said.

Also incredible: An Irving police spokesman said there was hardly any damage beyond the Cowboys' facility.

[+] EnlargeCowboys Facility
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezA firefighter stands surrounded by the collapsed canopy that covered the Cowboys' indoor practice facility in Irving, Texas.

"We checked and we can't find any other damage than this particular location," said David Tull, an Irving police spokesman. "The nearby area didn't have any reports of structural damage."

Before Bill Parcells was hired as coach in 2003, the Cowboys rarely practiced indoors, unless weather was bad enough for them to ride buses to a high school team's bubble. Parcells suggested that owner Jones build one, and it was finished in time for Parcells' first season at a cost of more than $4 million.

The no-frills building was pretty much a 100-yard football field with a few more yards of clearance all the way around. The roof was 80 feet high, the equivalent of an eight-story building.

On Saturday, there were 27 players -- almost all drafted last weekend or signed as undrafted rookies -- working out when the storm hit. Also in the building were coaches, support staff and media.

Overhead lights swayed violently, prompting players, coaches, staff members and reporters to vacate the building. Several people were trying to exit the facility as the roof came down at about 4:30 p.m. ET.

According to the Star-Telegram, a portable toilet was blown over outside the facility and blocked an exit.

TV cameraman Paul Riggs found shelter with several offensive lineman under a raised platform when the facility began to collapse, according to The Dallas Morning News.

"It fell all around us," Riggs said. "Then it was pure chaos."

Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com escaped, but was knocked down by something hitting his back. He then heard someone screaming for help and realized it was coming from under a door frame. He recognized that it was Todd Archer of The Morning News because of a tattoo on his ankle.

Eatman and colleague Josh Ellis tried freeing Archer but the structure wouldn't budge. "It was like a car," Eatman said. Then safety DeAngelo Smith and linebacker Brandon Williams managed to lift it just enough for Archer to squirm out.

"All I saw was blue jerseys," said Archer, who figures he was down 20 to 25 seconds. "I was trapped, I couldn't move. Then those guys lifted it up -- not very far, but I was able to move from my side to my back. ... Once I got out of there, I looked back and the whole thing was down."

Archer, whose right elbow and legs were scraped, said that as he fled for shelter, other players appeared to be stepping through the debris looking for others in need of help.

Eatman said one of the swaying lights wound up more than two football fields away. The giant blue star atop the building lay crumpled on the ground. The storm knocked out power at team headquarters and splintered trees across the property. Power was out at team headquarters for about an hour.

Larry Rodriguez, a television cameraman who in 2005 was attacked by Kenny Rogers while filming the former Texas Rangers pitcher, received six stitches to close a cut on a hand.

The team canceled Sunday's practice, the final one for the rookies. The first voluntary full-squad minicamp is May 19-21.

Information from ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and The Associated Press was used in this report.