IRVING, Texas — Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis broke his back and 11 more were injured when winds just shy of tornado strength ripped through the roof of the team's indoor practice facility during a rookie minicamp Saturday.
Former coach Dan Reeves, DeCamillis' father-in-law, said the first-year Dallas coach has a couple of broken vertebrae in his lower back.
"They say he's lucky not to be paralyzed," said Reeves, adding that DeCamillis probably will have surgery. The coach was seen being removed on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.
The storm hit while 27 players were going through workouts. Officials say there were about 70 people in the facility.
Of the 12 hospitalized, 10 were taken by emergency vehicles and two went on their own.
"Right now, I think we don't have anybody who is in a life-threatening situation," Dr. Paul Pepe, head of emergency medical services for Dallas County, said.
The white, tent-like building is large enough to be seen from miles away. It was built in 2003, for Bill Parcells' first season as coach.
Storms often make loud noises inside the so-called bubble, but this time overhead lights swayed violently. One of the team's video staff was the first out the door, followed by Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. Eatman was hit by something and went down a few feet away, then heard someone screaming for help. He recognized it was Todd Archer of The Dallas Morning News.
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 were able to get it up just enough for Archer to squirm out.
"All I saw was blue jerseys," said Archer, whose right elbow and legs were scraped. "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 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.
Larry Rodriguez, a local television cameraman who was in the news several years ago after he was attacked by Kenny Rogers while filming the former Texas Rangers pitcher, was treated with six stitches for a cut on a hand.
"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."
Names and details of their injuries were not released due to privacy rules.
"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."
The storm was producing winds measured at 64 mph just before it struck the Cowboys facility, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Harris in Fort Worth. A weak tornado is in the range of 65-110 mph, according to NWS guidelines. Power was knocked out for less than an hour.
"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."
This was the second of three scheduled days of practices, but Sunday's session was canceled.