By Calvin Palmer
Winds approaching the strength of a weak tornado tore the roof off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility at Irving, Texas, yesterday injuring 12 people.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was among those injured. He suffered a broken back and is likely to require surgery.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said he saw DeCamillis before he was taken to an area hospital.
“He was moving his hands, and he was talking,” Phillips said.
Secondary coach Dave Campo was more fortunate and escaped injury.
“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.”
About 60 other people felt lucky to escape with just cuts and bruises.
Players, coaches and others scrambled to help those trapped.
“There were a lot of heroes out there in my mind, because all of those guys jumped right in there looking for people and trying to help people around them,” Campo said.
“The players did a great job. They didn’t even hesitate. They went trying to find as many people as fast as we could.”
A 33-year-old man was impaled by an object and was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Irving City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said.
Two other people were taken to Parkland, one with a head injury and another who suffered neck and back injuries. Another person was at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas with an open leg fracture.
Five of the injured were taken to Las Colinas Medical Center, and two more walked in later.
“Right now, I think we don’t have anybody who is in a life-threatening situation,” said Dr. Paul Pepe, head of the emergency department at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Names of the injured have not been released. Players were told not to discuss the episode with reporters.
Just before the facility was flattened, the wind was clocked at 64 mph, one 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.
“The fact that there weren’t more injuries is rather miraculous,” Woodall said.
A spokesman for Irving Police said there was hardly any damage in the city beyond the Cowboys’ facility.
When Bill Parcells was hired as coach in 2003, he suggested that an indoor practice facility was needed.
The no-frills $4 million structure 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.
When the wind hit the structure yesterday “it just imploded,” said Arnold Payne, a cameraman for WFAA-TV.
“It was like somebody stuck a pin in a balloon,” he said. “It collapsed on all sides.”
Yesterday, 27 players — almost all drafted last weekend or signed as undrafted rookies – were working out, along with coaches, support staff and media when the storm hit.
Had the Cowboys been holding a full camp practice with more than 80 players in the building, it could have been potentially far worse.
“I think we’re very fortunate,” Campo said.
The team canceled today’s practice, the final one for the rookies.