Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin posted a photo of himself on social media Sunday that shows him sitting up in his hospital bed and rooting on his teammates less than a week after his cardiac arrest and on-field collapse.
“GAMETIME!!!” Hamlin wrote in the post. The image showed him with his hands together in a heart sign and wearing a number 3 hat and a “Love for Damar” shirt.
He posted earlier Sunday about his desire to be out on the field for the Bills’ game against the New England Patriots.
“It’s GameDay & There’s Nothing I Want More Than To Be Running Out That Tunnel With My Brothers,” he wrote alongside a video of himself from earlier in the season. “God Using Me In A Different Way Today! Tell Someone You Love Them Today!” He added the hashtag #Prayfor3, his jersey number.
Across the league – and particularly in Buffalo – players, coaches and fans expressed their support for Hamlin with T-shirts, signs and jersey patches featuring his name and his number 3. Several of his Bills teammates took the field at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, waving flags with Hamlin’s name and jersey number.
Bills star quarterback Josh Allen arrived to the stadium today wearing a sweatshirt with a large number 3 and a quote from Hamlin: “If you get a chance to show some love today do it! It won’t cost you nothing.” Hamlin retweeted a photo of Allen and added, “That’s My Quarterback.”
In Orchard Park, the public address announcer read a statement of support for Hamlin and received a roar from the crowd. Fans all around the stadium held up signs of support for Hamlin such as “BILLI3VE,” “All the heart for #3,” “Love for Damar” and “Thank You Medical Staff!”
The Bills medical and athletic training staff members were recognized ahead of the game, including assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington, the man credited with saving Hamlin’s life.
The Bills gave Hamlin something to smile about immediately once the game began. Bills returner Nyhiem Hines took the opening kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown, a storybook start sending the crowd into euphoria and spurring Hamlin to tweet, “OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The tributes come six days after Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and suddenly collapsed after making a tackle in the first quarter of Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Medical trainers and doctors did CPR on Hamlin on the field and rushed him to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in front of visibly distressed players and a stunned stadium.
The game between the two AFC heavyweights was postponed and later canceled by the NFL.
Hamlin’s photo of himself in his hospital bed comes after a week of cautiously positive news about his prognosis.
With the world waiting anxiously for updates, the Bills said Thursday there had been a “remarkable improvement” in his health, with doctors saying the player’s “neurological condition and function is intact.” On Friday, the team tweeted Hamlin’s breathing tube had been removed overnight, according to doctors, and he’s been able to talk with his family and health care providers.
Hamlin was able to join a team meeting via FaceTime on Friday and was able to talk to players and coaches. “Love you boys,” he told the team.
The Bills safety said on Instagram on Saturday he was thankful for the love he’s received and asked for continued prayers for a “long road” ahead.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said Hamlin’s positivity has uplifted the team ahead of their return to play on Sunday.
“He is amazing. His spirit is so positive. He is going to be ‘locked in,’ he said, to watch the guys today. We will be thinking of him for sure.”
McDermott said he had exchanged texts with Hamlin Saturday night and Sunday morning. In McDermott’s pregame interview on CBS, he said Hamlin’s improved health has really been a “huge lift for the guys to get their minds off of that, off of Damar a little bit, enough to focus on their preparation for this game.”
Hamlin’s teammates, many of whom were in tears as they watched the medical team resuscitate the 24-year-old, met Wednesday for a walk-through and held their first full practice of the week Thursday.
In a news conference ahead of Sunday’s game, Bills quarterback Josh Allen told reporters focusing on football has been hard with their teammate still in the hospital.
“I think putting that helmet back on was a really good thing for our team and just to go through that process,” he said Thursday. “But I would be lying to you if I didn’t say, some people are going to be changed forever after being on the field and witnessing that and feeling those emotions.
“The best way we can continue to move forward, obviously, the updates we keep getting on Damar, really lift our spirits. Leaning on each other, talking to each other,” he said. “We’ve had some very open and honest and deep talks. Some unbelievable, this sounds weird, but some embraces as men, just hugging somebody and actually just leaning into them.
“There’s been a lot of that going around and you need every bit of it, you really do. I think the fact that we just keep hearing good news about Damar, it just keeps pushing us forward.”
Hamlin’s collapse is the latest in a string of recent tragedies to have struck the community of Buffalo, including a racist mass shooting and a historic blizzard which left at least 41 people dead in Erie County, New York.
A high-ranking official within the Bills organization told CNN’s Coy Wire they broke down in tears after day and nightlong meetings on Tuesday, sobbing because of the heaviness of the situation. The series of difficult blows to Buffalo have emotionally piled up within the organization, the source said, adding through it all, the team has tried to be a source of strength for the city.
McDermott has been praised by his players for his handling of Hamlin’s situation and the 48-year-old says the number one priority is the health and well-being of his players.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, McDermott said a Zoom call with Damar’s father, Mario, on Wednesday had helped the players feel more comfortable about preparing for the game.
“Damar’s father spoke to the team and really his message was, the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves,” McDermott said Thursday.
“Damar would have wanted it that way. And so that includes our game against New England this week. And I think that has helped.”
Bills’ offensive lineman Dion Dawkins told CNN the short meeting “took a whole bunch of weight off our shoulders.”
“Seeing his father’s expression on his face, it was just honestly all we needed to see to take a giant step forward,” Dawkins told CNN’s Don Lemon Friday.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, the Bills’ opponent and rival, said preparing to face them has been difficult.
“We’re all here, you know, we have a job to do but really we’re just concerned about him, his family and I’m just trying to get updates and make sure that he’s OK and be there for the Bills and their organization as well,” he told reporters.
“So definitely a lot of emotions and things like that running around and to try and stay focused on the game is hard. It’s a hard thing to do and that’s just one thing you have to do is focus on each day and obviously send your prayers and also continue your routine the best you can.”