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February 5, 2023

Buffalo Bills Players Can’t Wait to ‘Love Up On’ Hamlin After Health Update

Buffalo Bills Players Can’t Wait to ‘Love Up On’ Hamlin After Health Update

The Buffalo Bills said Hamlin “continues to progress remarkably” and his neurological function was intact.

Both Bills quarterback Josh Allen, left, and Coach Sean McDermott said the message they received from Damar Hamlin’s father, Mario, was the lift they needed to focus on the upcoming N.F.L. schedule.Credit…Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Bills safety Damar Hamlin had his breathing tube removed overnight and has been able to talk with his family, doctors and teammates, the Buffalo Bills said Friday morning.

Hamlin was speaking by video chat on Friday to teammates and coaches, as they met in preparation for a game on Sunday against the New England Patriots. In a news conference with reporters, Bills Coach Sean McDermott said he surprised the team with a “treat,” and the players gave Hamlin a standing ovation when they saw him onscreen.

Hamlin later made a heart gesture with his hands, gave a thumbs up and flexed his arm muscles, McDermott said, curling both his biceps as he recounted the call.

Hamlin also spoke to the team, McDermott said, and had a simple message: “Love you boys”

“It was a pretty cool exchange for a few seconds there,” McDermott said.

Hamlin’s doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Thursday that even though Hamlin had shown progress, it was still far too early to determine whether he will be able to fully recover.

“He continues to progress remarkably in his recovery,” the team said in a tweet, adding that his neurological function was intact.

McDermott had previously recounted for reporters how Mario Hamlin, the father of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, had addressed the team in a video conference from Cincinnati on Wednesday. Mario Hamlin and his wife, Nina, had been bedside at a hospital with their son, but told the team that Damar would want them to play.

Both McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen said Thursday afternoon that the message — combined with Damar Hamlin’s improving condition as he continues to be treated after suffering a cardiac arrest in Monday’s game — was the lift the Bills needed to encourage them to focus on their jobs, even as they continue to pray and worry about their teammate and friend.

Hamlin, 24, collapsed after making what appeared to be a routine tackle of Bengals receiver Tee Higgins during a game broadcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

What followed was a harrowing 10 minutes as medical professionals attended to him on the field and administered CPR, while Bills players knelt in a circle around him. On the sidelines, players wept and hugged. Broadcasters, the shock also evident in their voices, attempted to narrate the scene as Hamlin was eventually placed in an ambulance and rushed to a hospital.

The game was suspended, after McDermott consulted with his team, the officials and Bengals Coach Zac Taylor. The league eventually announced that the game would not be completed.

“Yesterday’s news of Damar’s improving condition lifted not only my spirits but the spirits of the entire league,” N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Friday. “And this morning’s news that he was FaceTiming with his team is just incredible.”

N.F.L. team owners on Friday approved two adjustments to the A.F.C. playoffs as a result of the decision to not resume the suspended game. Both the Bills and the Bengals were in contention for the top seed in their conference and home-field advantage through the playoffs.

The Bills (12-3) and Bengals (11-4) will each have played one fewer game than the other teams in the N.F.L. after the regular season concludes this weekend. To account for potential competitive discrepancies, the A.F.C. championship game will be held at a neutral site if the teams involved did not play the same number of games, and if both teams could have been the top seed had the Bengals-Bills matchup been completed.

Also, if the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) beat Cincinnati for a second time this season on Sunday, and if the A.F.C. North opponents are scheduled to play one another in the wild-card round, the game site would be determined by a coin toss.

“It was critical for the owners to vote today so the clubs know going into this weekend what they’re playing for,” Goodell said.

Both Allen and McDermott earlier this week described the terrifying scene and their efforts to both process their emotions and prepare for a football game that seemed trivial compared with what happened to Hamlin.

“The scene just plays over and over in your head,” Allen said Thursday. “It’s hard to actually describe how I felt, how my teammates felt at the moment.”

But to learn that Hamlin was writing messages and holding hands with loved ones just three days after coming close to losing his life on the field, Allen said, “There’s nothing you could have told us to bring our day down after that.”

Allen said he and his teammates were looking forward to reuniting with Hamlin so they can “love up on him.”

McDermott, who has made players’ mental well-being a priority of his coaching style, said after the Bills returned from Cincinnati that there were impromptu team meetings and counselors available for players and staff.

“The health and well-being of your staff and your players is the No. 1 job of a coach in this situation,” McDermott said.

Allen said he invited all his teammates to his home this week, and those who joined him prayed, decompressed and talked about Hamlin.

Bills cornerback Dane Jackson, who also played with Hamlin at the University of Pittsburgh, said the two men share a special bond. Before every game, Jackson said, he and Hamlin usually found each other on the sidelines, where they would hug and tell each other, “I love you.”

It was a tradition that Jackson thought of frequently after he experienced a frightening neck injury during Week 2 of this season. As he was being loaded into an ambulance, one voice stood out among all his teammates, he said. It was Hamlin’s.

“He said, ‘I love you, D-Jack,’” Jackson said. He looks forward to reuniting with his friend, so he can relay the same message.

Jenny Vrentas contributed reporting.

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