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Damar Hamlin's Snorkel Removed, Buffalo Safety FaceTimes Bills: 'Love You Boys'

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When the Buffalo Bills returned to practice Thursday, the players held up 3 and made hearts with their hands as they thought of their friend and teammate at a Cincinnati hospital.

When Damar Hamlin finally spoke to them the next day via FaceTime after removing her breathing tube overnight, it only took three words to say it back: “I love you boys.”

The players got up. They celebrated. They cheered Hamlin on the big screen in the team meeting room.

“We got our boy, man,” left-back Dion Dawkins later told reporters. “That’s all that matters. We have our boy. The emotion was beautiful. It was fantastic. He gave us so much energy, so much sparkle, high spirits, whatever you want to call it. He is giving it to us. Seeing that boy’s face, seeing him smile, seeing him (flex) on camera, that was everything. And then hearing him talk to us, that was literally everything.

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“And that’s what we needed. Literally everything we needed.”

It was a call they needed from the moment the 24-year-old safety went into cardiac arrest on the field Monday night in Cincinnati and had to be revived on the field.

He was able to gradually wake up on Wednesday night after being sedated, holding hands with family and medical staff, and communicating in writing.

In a Friday morning update from doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the Bills said Hamlin “continues to make remarkable progress in his recovery. His neurological function remains intact and he was able to talk with his family and care team.”

That family included his teammates, as head coach Sean McDermott stunned the Bills players and coaches.

“We put Damar on the big screen,” said McDermott. “So he was larger than life there for us.”

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Hamlin really did look larger than life this week for the outside world to get to know him. But for the Bills, the days since Monday have been so tiring because Hamlin is not a larger-than-life figure for them. He is Damar. Dham. Three.

In any other week, he’d be sitting right there in the conference room with them. The call was brief, but it provided a boost as the Bills prepare for Sunday’s home game against the New England Patriots. The team will wear the #3 patches as part of their NFL tributes to Hamlin.

“I can’t remember the order of things, and it wasn’t a long interaction like you might think with his situation,” McDermott said, “but he did hand signals, hand gestures.”

McDermott chuckled as he re-enacted how Hamlin had raised his arms, bent hard to the side, immediately to initiate the call.

“He flexed them, I think,” McDermott said with a laugh.

From there, Hamlin made a few other gestures, all true to his usual self.

“He just has a few basic things that they know him for, and that he does,” McDermott said. “He made the heart symbol probably more than anything else.”

A flex, a heart and a thumbs up. And a few words that Hamlin says often but that resonated more this time around.

“Somewhere in the middle of that — and it was a little hard to hear, as you can imagine — he said, ‘I love you boys,'” McDermott said. “Sure, got the guys.”

Also got McDermott. As he tried to describe it hours later, the trainer was still emotional about the moment.

“Probably won’t be able to honestly do it justice with words. Amazing. Touching,” said McDermott. “Seeing Damar, through my own eyes, I know is something I’ve been looking forward to, kind of needing to see I guess.”

He needed to see for himself that Hamlin would be okay. Nothing would mean more than that, but a close second was the reaction in everyone else’s room.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up when he said ‘I love you boys,'” said general manager Brandon Beane. “The room went crazy. It was amazing.”

Matt Worswick, an assistant head coach in Buffalo, and Tabani Richards, an assistant athletic coach for the Bills still in Cincinnati with Hamlin, coordinated the call. But McDermott hesitated to warn the rest of the players and coaches.

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“How do I know we’ll be able to top it? We have to,” McDermott said. “Just like we’ve done many times before. This town, and the people of western New York, have dealt with what they’ve dealt with. That’s what you do.”

Hope can be powerful and it certainly was needed this week. But the other side of hope is that it can be cruel, and the coach didn’t want to give hope without being sure that the decision could happen at that moment.

“I wanted to make sure it actually happened with Damar’s medical schedule there,” McDermott said. “When I said we had a surprise in store, you could see the look in their eyes in anticipation of what was likely to come.”

“We feel it,” Dawkins said. “It was more McDermott – McDermott gave it away. I’m just going to say it’s true.”

Part of the reason the Bills were able to fully support each other this week is because they’re so in tune with each other’s cues. Dawkins is deeply familiar with his head coach’s mannerisms, so much so that he knew that reserved pleasure could only be one thing.

“We know our coach, he’s a very direct guy. And the amount of expression he walked into the team room with, you already knew,” said Dawkins. “If you’re smiling like that, if you’ve got a good walk, Sean McDermott, there’s only one thing you’ll be so happy about. So just give it to us now.

Players were also keeping track of every medical update. doctor Timothy Pritts and Dr. William Knight IV of UCMC gave reporters a full update on Hamlin on Thursday.

“There are still many, many steps to go,” Pritts said on Thursday.

At that point, the next step was for Hamlin to breathe completely on his own, Pritts said.

“That will be the next big milestone for him,” said Pritts.

On Thursday night, Hamlin reached that step. But on Friday, when Hamlin raised his arms and flexed, his teammates were reminded of the Hamlin they knew.

“Strength. Strength. Simply strength,” Dawkins said of what he saw. “I think he sees that the world has his back and then I think he sees that his teammates, his brothers, his family and his immediate people have his back.

“And when people support you positively and unconditionally, it just gives you strength. And I think that’s why when we first saw him, he was like this,” Dawkins said, as he also flexed. “It’s a beautiful feeling and I definitely think he’s feeling stronger than before.”

Strength runs in the Hamlin family. Beane saw this firsthand while staying in Cincinnati with Hamlin and his family. There, he got to know Damar’s parents, Mario and Nina, on a much deeper level.

“I was amazed just watching their strength through such difficult ups and downs,” Beane said. “I don’t believe I would have handled it with the same force if it had been my son.”

Strength comes in different forms, the Bills noted this week, as players and staff are vulnerable with each other. They went from overwhelming fear of the worst for Hamlin to overflowing joy at his remarkable progress.

It was a delightful Friday to finally cry over good news.

“We’re on a positive path now where we’ve been able to see our guy, and we’ve been able to see the ‘3’ smile and that’s literally everything we wanted,” Dawkins said. “Like he’s here with us and that’s all we can ask is that he’s taking steps forward. …

“All the (medical staff) who are working on him and caring for him and with all the love and prayers, it’s working. So that doesn’t mean stop now. That means going even harder.”

A plaque at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, pays tribute to Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest during the Bills-Bengals game in Cincinnati on Monday night.

joseph cooke