Luton Town goalscorer Jordan Clark said boss Rob Edwards had told them to win the Championship play-off final for Tom Lockyer after the defender collapsed in the opening stages of the match.
The Hatters captain, 28, was taken straight to hospital, where he was pictured celebrating in his bed after his team-mates won a penalty shootout.
Clark told Sky Sports: “The gaffer said we had to do it for him.”
Edwards said it “felt a little bit wrong to celebrate”.
Luton were a non-league team just nine years ago, and their victory over Coventry took them back into the top division for the first time since 1992.
But the day had begun in worrying fashion as they lost Lockyer in just the eighth minute - the Wales international falling to the turf and having to be taken off on a stretcher.
Lockyer later posted an update on Instagram on his condition to say he was “feeling very much myself, helped by the way the lads left it all out on pitch”.
He was staying in hospital overnight as a precaution and would have further tests on Sunday, he said.
“I would just like to say a massive thank you to the amazing physios and doctors at Luton and Wembley for the swift and thorough response,” he added.
“A much scarier moment for everyone else than myself I am sure!”
Despite losing their captain, the Hatters went in front through Clark’s first-half strike, but Coventry forced extra time when Gustavo Hamer equalised on 66 minutes.
Neither team could find a way through in extra time before a high-quality shootout ended with Coventry’s Fankaty Dabo shooting over.
Speaking soon after victory was secured, Edwards told BBC Three Counties Radio he was “only thinking about Lockyer”. He later told Sky Sports: “I just felt emotional. I feel for ‘Locks’, who has been our best player this year.”
Dan Potts, who wore the captain’s armband as he scored Luton’s sixth penalty, said he was “gutted” for Lockyer.
“He deserved to be there holding that trophy,” he added.
Town have been practising penalties throughout their play-off campaign, and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath said he had “no doubt” they would win the shootout.
“We’re a brotherhood and we’re all behind each other,” he told Sky Sports. “We needed everybody today.”
‘This is not the last chapter’
Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet told BBC Three Counties Radio this was not the end of the Luton fairytale, saying: “We’re not finished yet.”
Sweet’s Luton Town 2020 consortium bought the club in 2008, when he says it was “close to being completely liquidated”.
Fifteen years on, Luton will welcome teams such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool to their 10,356-capacity Kenilworth Road stadium.
“I am numb with joy,” said Sweet. “I cannot believe it. We are here, where we wanted to be. History.
“I never believed the club would die, or believed the town would die. I was determined never to let that happen.
“We’re on the up. We haven’t finished. This is not the last chapter.”
Clark said Kenilworth Road was “an unbelievable place”, adding: “I can’t wait to play there next season with this group of lads. It’s such a tight-knit group and a pleasure to be here.”
Club legend Mick Harford - a former Luton player and manager - told BBC 3CR that returning to the top division capped an “unbelievable story”.
“It’s probably one of the best things to happen in my life,” he said.
“I was in tears at the end. We’re at the promised land and we fully deserved it. I look forward to the challenge of the Premier League.”