Ben Patrick couldn’t believe it was happening again.
As he drove up I-17 near Black Canyon City with a convoy of friends Saturday — heading for a mountain getaway — they came upon a van, lying on its side off the road, with several people trapped inside and the smell of gasoline filling the air.
“It was weird,” said Patrick, a free-agent tight end who played four seasons for the Cardinals (2007-10) and spent last season out of football after the Giants released him. “I had an almost identical situation happen to me my third year in college at Duke University.”
That one didn’t have a happy ending. Unable to get any leverage in the wet ground, or pry open the doors or windows, Patrick and another man watched a man slowly die inside an upside-down van, with his face pressed grotesquely up against the windshield.
“It stuck with me a long time, although I haven’t told many people about it,” Patrick said. “It’s hard to watch a man die right in front of you. The other guy was holding his hand as he passed. That’s what prompted me to such quick action when I saw the same situation again.”
With the help of a host of passers-by, Patrick climbed on the upturned side of the van and pulled every member of that I-17 accident to safety.
“I could smell the gasoline, and it crossed my mind that this could be the end for me,” he said. “But I figured if I was going out, it was going to be helping other people, because that situation in college really haunted me.”
Patrick was the Cardinals’ seventh-round pick in 2007 out of Delaware, where he spent his last college season after transferring from Duke. After a brief retirement last season to get “some family issues in order,” he is hoping to latch on with another team this fall.
He met with the Carolina Panthers a couple weeks ago and spoke to several teams at the recently concluded NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He is training this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before he returns to Arizona to continue his normal training regimen.
“Hopefully, I’ll get another shot,” he said.
He was talking about his NFL career, but the dual meaning of that statement wasn’t lost on him as he contemplated Saturday’s encounter.
“I know people are saying I’m a hero, but if I’m a hero then everyone else who helped out is, too, even though nobody’s doing a story on them,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I was just doing what I think anybody would have done.”