Real life interrupted a game Saturday afternoon, and an entire stadium fell silent.
University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill, in his first home opener at TCF Bank Stadium, suffered a violent seizure in the closing seconds of the Gophers' 28-21 loss to New Mexico State.
University officials released a statement late Saturday that said Kill was stable and improving at a hospital after being transported there by ambulance. He will undergo further tests as a precaution.
Team physician Pat Smith expects Kill "to recover fully,'' the statement said, though Smith said it was too early to say how soon Kill could return to his coaching duties. An update on Kill's condition is expected Sunday.
Smith said after the game that Kill's episode stemmed from a previously diagnosed seizure disorder that was known to players and coaches, though not to the public. He has had at least three previous seizures, in 2001, in 2005 during a game while he was coach at Southern Illinois and in 2006 following the taping of a segment for his weekly football show.
"Coach Kill has a history of seizures,'' Smith said, "and he is stable."
Although players knew an incident like Saturday's could happen, actually seeing their coach convulse on the sideline left them shaken.
"We were scared, but at the time we know that it has happened before," said Gophers senior running back Duane Bennett. "As players, we have to continue to stay focused on the field. We know Coach Kill would want us to go out there and execute regardless of if he was there on the sideline."
His team was on its final drive and hoping to tie the game when Kill suddenly collapsed and began thrashing on the turf. Assistant coaches pushed concerned players back as medical personnel tried to control his flailing limbs. Fans quickly turned quiet and strained to decipher what they were watching. One fan's voice finally pierced the silence. "Everyone grab hands and pray!" he yelled. Many did.
As Kill was placed on a stretcher and carted from the field, fans chanted his name. New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker, who played for the Gophers in the '80s, was on the brink of pulling off a major win. Suddenly, that was secondary.
"The game is not important at that point when you have somebody laying down and you're not sure of their health," Walker said.
The only people who seemed calm were the assistant coaches who have been with Kill at two other Division I schools and had seen his past seizures.
In 2005, after a seizure during a Southern Illinois game against Illinois State, he underwent tests for the disorder. Doctors then discovered he had kidney cancer. He was given a clean bill of health after undergoing surgery, but takes medication that might contribute to new seizures, Smith said.
"There is a history of trouble with dehydration and heat seems to kick that up,'' Smith said. "It was a very hot and humid today, we have to do a better job as a medical staff keeping him hydrated."
Matt Limegrover, the team's offensive coordinator, said the staff's experience with Kill's prior health issues has prepared it to move forward until he returns.
"The bad part is we have been through this before but I think that's also a blessing 'cause we've been able to handle this," Limegrover said. "As a group and as a staff, we know what needs to be done.''
Shortly after the sirens blared from the ambulance that would carry Kill to the hospital, an official blew his whistle to resume play.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray's last pass fell to the ground and the Gophers went down to their second loss of the season.
But what normally would have been a bitter moment for Gopher fans hardly seemed important.
Staff Writer Curt Brown contributed to this report.