Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin completed his comeback from a near-death experience in January by playing against Miami on Sunday, his first regular-season action since going into cardiac arrest on needing to be resuscitated on the field during a game at Cincinnati.
The 25-year-old Hamlin was the last Bills player to exit the tunnel before kickoff. He ran the length of the field with his arms spread, then took off his helmet in the end zone and stood before a cheering crowd.
“That moment was everything to me,” said Hamlin, who was a healthy scratch for the Bills' first three games after playing in the preseason. “I think it was more so about promising to myself than anything else, just showing myself that I have the courage, I got the strength that I got the pride, everything, all those words in me to be able to go through something so traumatic and to be able to come back from it. To be able to still do what I love at the highest level in the world, is amazing.”
Here’s a look at Hamlin’s road back:
Early in Buffalo’s Week 17 game at Cincinnati, Hamlin attempted to tackle Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins on a routine play. Higgins’ right shoulder hit Hamlin in the chest, before Hamlin wrapped his arms around Higgins’ shoulder and helmet to drag him down.
Hamlin quickly got to his feet, appeared to adjust his face mask with his right hand, then fell backward and lay motionless on the field. He was given medical treatment, including CPR, on the field for nearly 20 minutes before being taken in an ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The game was delayed before being called off, while the Bills flew home with Hamlin still in the hospital.
The Bills said Hamlin remained in critical condition and was sedated in the hospital, acknowledging his heart had stopped on the field before being restored.
Players around the league voiced their support for Hamlin, and fans held vigils in Cincinnati and outside the Bills’ home stadium in Orchard Park, New York. A GoFundMe page for Hamlin’s toy drive for kids received roughly $5.5 million in donations in the first 24 hours after his injury.
While Hamlin remained in critical condition and under sedation, the team said he had displayed signs of improvement and was expected to remain in intensive care.
Hamlin began to wake up late at night.
Doctors said Hamlin began to communicate in writing with family and others at his bedside, adding that his first question was, “Did we win?”
Hamlin was taken off a ventilator. Breathing on his own and able to talk, Hamlin joined a Bills team meeting via videoconference, telling teammates, “Love you boys.”
Coach Sean McDermott said players stood up and clapped for Hamlin.
Doctors described Hamlin’s neurological function as “excellent,” adding he remained in critical condition after taking major steps forward in his recovery a day earlier.
NFL games resumed with Hamlin tributes at stadium across the country. His No. 3 was on display everywhere across the league, outlined on 30-yard lines on fields, worn on special patches on the Bills uniforms and featured on jackets and sweatshirts and even on red hearts dangling from the tailgate tents outside their home stadium.
Buffalo beat New England 35-23, a victory that began with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Nyheim Hines on the game’s opening play that elicited an excited tweet from Hamlin.
Hamlin was discharged from the hospital in Cincinnati and flown to continue care in western New York, where he was listed in stable condition at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute.
Hamlin was released from the hospital in Buffalo after doctors said they completed tests and were satisfied he could be safely discharged.
Hamlin visited with teammates at the Bills’ facility for the first time since being discharged from the hospital.
Hamlin cheered on his team’s playoff win against Miami the following day from home.
Hamlin made his first public appearance since going into cardiac arrest, waving to fans from a stadium suite during the Bills’ home playoff game against the Bengals.
Hamlin made several appearances in Phoenix during Super Bowl week.
On Feb. 8, he won the NFLPA’s Alan Page Community Award, which recognizes one player who goes above and beyond to perform community service in his team city and/or hometown, and his foundation received $100,000.
Two days later, he joined the first responders who helped save his life onstage at the “NFL Honors.” He appeared on the field prior to the Super Bowl on Feb. 12, joining members of the medical staffs of the Bills, Bengals and UC Medical Center.
On March 29, Hamlin appeared with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., to discuss a bill that would increase access to defibrillators in public elementary and secondary schools.
The next day, he met with President Joe Biden, who said in a tweet that “Hamlin’s courage, resilience, and spirit inspired the American people.”
After general manager Brandon Beane announced Hamlin’s intent to return, Hamlin made it clear he wants to play football again.
The Professional Football Writers of America honored Hamlin by selecting him the winner of the 2023 George Halas Award, given to an NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes adversity to succeed.
Hamlin was eased back to practice for the first time, taking part in individual drills.
Hamlin took part in his first full practice, which he celebrated by calling his parents. “I’m good,” Hamlin told The Associated Press as he walked off the field.
Hamlin kicked off a multi-city tour at the Bills stadium to distribute medical equipment and promote CPR training. He would follow up with stops in New York City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
A bill to place automatic external defibrillators in every school and sports and recreation venue in Ohio cleared the Republican-dominated House with overwhelming bipartisan support in honor of Hamlin.
Hamlin sent prayers to NBA star LeBron James’ oldest son, Bronny, who was hospitalized after going into cardiac arrest during a practice at the University of Southern California. Hamlin tweeted: “Prayers to Bronny & The James Family as well (prayer emoji) here for you guys just like you have been for me my entire process.” James was released from the hospital a few days later.
Hamlin put aside his fears and emotions by suiting up and taking a few hits in the Bills’ first full-padded practice of training camp. “This is just a another milestone on the journey — might be one of the biggest ones,” Hamlin said. “My faith is stronger than any fear.”
Hamlin is credited with three tackles over two-plus defensive series in his first game in a competitive setting since January in Buffalo’s preseason-opening 23-19 win over Indianapolis. Hamlin’s first tackle was stopping running back Evan Hull for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Bills 40.
“What we just witnessed, to me, is remarkable,” McDermott said of Hamlin. “I know there was a football game going out there today, but I mean a truly remarkable display of courage and strength and faith.”
Hamlin’s fearless bid to resume his career approached completion when he made the team as the Bills pared their roster to 53 players. Hamlin finished the preseason with nine solo tackles and one assist while playing 80 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. He was was selected to take the field as a captain in his hometown of Pittsburgh for the coin flip before the Bills’ exhibition game against the Steelers.
Hamlin achieved his goal of resuming his playing career when he took the field as part of Buffalo’s kickoff return unit to open its game against the Miami Dolphins. The Bills won 48-20.
The kickoff resulted in a touchback, but it marked a key milestone for Hamlin, who was a healthy scratch for the Bills' first three games. He got the nod to play with starting safety Jordan Poyer sidelined by a knee injury.
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The Associated Press