Buffalo Bills staff and players were already elated to see Damar Hamlin appear on the video screen in the team’s meeting room Friday, “larger than life,” as head coach Sean McDermott described it. , for the first time since the Marauder collapsed and had to be revived in the field.
What made all the emotions boil over was hearing Hamlin, his mouth and throat still raw shortly after his breathing tube was removed, say softly, “I love you guys. »
“Wonderful. Touching. Seeing Damar, first, with my own eyes, I know it was something I was looking forward to, something I needed to see, McDermott admitted. And seeing the reaction of the players. They were immediately on their feet and cheering and they yelled things at him. It was a pretty cool exchange.”
Four days since his heart stopped after making what seemed like a routine tackle in a game, Hamlin, from his hospital room in Cincinnati, and the Bills enjoyed a moment of elation as they celebrated the next step in what their doctors called it a remarkable recovery.
“We have our man. That’s all that matters,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said.
“Seeing the kid’s face, seeing him smile and seeing him act like that on camera,” Dawkins recounted, flexing his muscles to imitate Hamlin, “was everything. And then hearing him speak was literally everything. That’s what we needed. »
The 24-year-old defender is already breathing and walking on his own, and has returned the notebook he used to communicate. Although there is no timetable for his discharge from the hospital, Hamlin’s doctors said Thursday that breathing on his own and showing continued signs of improvement are the final steps for him to be released from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Hamlin spent his first two days in the hospital sedated. When he woke up Wednesday night, he was able to follow orders and grab people’s hands. He removed the breathing tube, the team said Friday, and Hamlin’s “neurological function remains intact.”
The team did not say whether Hamlin’s condition remains critical or whether he has been moved from intensive care.
In a move that was predictable, the Bills placed Hamlin’s name on injured reserve through the end of the season and activated rookie cornerback Christian Benford from injured reserve. Benford had been out of action since he suffered an oblique strain on Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when he said, ‘I love you guys,'” confessed general manager Brandon Beane, who returned to Buffalo Thursday after spending three days at Hamlin’s bedside with the player’s family. . .
The turning point in Hamlin’s recovery, according to Beane, came Thursday morning when the two men exchanged a hug.
“The fact that he could hug him and the grip strength he had,” Beane said, before recalling what he told Hamlin’s father, Mario.
“I told him, I’m not the type to cry, but it was emotional and many of the grown men there were crying yesterday. It’s something I will never forget. »
The reaction across the NFL on Friday was equally warm.
“Awesome. It’s probably an encouragement for the whole league,” said New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll, who spent the previous four seasons as the Bills’ offensive coordinator. “It gives you a boost because you pray a lot for this young man.” . »
The NFL announced plans to show support for Hamlin during all Week 18 games, including a pregame moment of support, Hamlin’s number 3 paint job at the 30-yard line, and pregame T-shirts with “Love for Damar 3 ” .
The Bills will also wear “3” insignia on their jerseys.
The interaction with Hamlin buoyed the Bills (12-3) and allowed them to focus their attention on Sunday’s season finale at home against the New England Patriots (8-8).
“It won’t just be a celebration of Buffalo, but of the entire country and, I’m sure, people internationally who have watched this situation,” Beane said. It’s going to be a great deal, and the only thing that would be better is for Damar to be here by then. I don’t know if that would happen, but regardless, we’re excited for Sunday. »
The scene of Hamlin’s collapse, televised to North American audiences as part of ESPN’s traditional Monday night game, drew an outpouring of support from fans and players across the league.
Fans, team owners and players, including Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, donated to Hamlin’s “Chasing M’s” foundation, which has raised nearly $8 million as of Friday afternoon.
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