By JOHN WAWROW
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It was encouraging enough for the Buffalo Bills staff and players to see Damar Hamlin appear on the video screen in the team meeting room Friday, “more larger than life,” as coach Sean McDermott said, for the first time since the safety collapsed and he had to be revived on the field.
What made everyone’s emotions boil over was hearing Hamlin, his mouth and throat still raw shortly after his breathing tube was removed, quietly say, “I love you guys.”
“Amazing. Heartwarming. To see Damar, number one, through my own eyes, I know it’s something I’ve been looking forward to, something I needed to see,” McDermott said. “And to see the reaction of the players. They got He stood up right away and clapped and yelled a few things at him. It was a really cool exchange.”
Four days since his heart stopped after making what appeared to be a routine tackle in a game, Hamlin, 24, from his hospital room in Cincinnati and the Bills enjoyed a jubilant moment celebrating the next step. on what your doctors have. called it a remarkable recovery.
“We’ve got our boy, man. It’s all that matters,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said.
“Seeing the kid’s face, seeing him smile and seeing him like that on camera,” Dawkins said, flexing his muscles to imitate Hamlin, “was everything. And then hearing him speak, was literally everything. That’s what we needed.”
Hamlin now breathes and walks on his own, and he handed over the notepad he had been using to communicate. Although there is no timetable for his release, Hamlin’s doctors said Thursday that both 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 under sedation. Waking up Wednesday night, Hamlin was able to follow orders and grab people’s hands. The breathing tube has been removed, 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.
“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when he said, ‘I love you guys,'” said 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, for Beane, came Thursday morning when the two exchanged hugs.
“Just to be able to hold him and the grip strength he had,” Beane said, before remembering what he said to Hamlin’s father, Mario. “I told him, I’m not a crybaby, but man, it was emotional and a lot of grown men cried yesterday. Something I will never forget.”
The reaction from across the NFL on Friday was just as moving.
“Awesome. It’s probably uplifting for the whole league,” said New York Giants coach Brian Daboll, who spent the previous four seasons as the Bills’ offensive coordinator. “It gives you a boost because you’re praying a lot for the young man.” .
The NFL announced plans to show support for Hamlin during all games in Week 18, including a pregame moment of support, painting Hamlin’s number 3 at the 30-yard line and pregame jerseys with “Love for Damar 3.” . The Bills will also wear “3” jersey patches.
New York Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner was already planning to wear Hamlin’s No. 3 jersey during warmups before the team’s game in Miami on Sunday.
“What a warrior. He is so strong, a confident fighter,” Gardner said. “I was so happy that he was able to come back into the world.”
Interacting with Hamlin gave the Bills (12-3) a bit of a lift and allowed them to focus their attention on the season-ending game at home against the New England Patriots (8-8) on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a celebration of life and life in progress,” Beane said, looking to the future.
“It will not only be a celebration of Buffalo, but of the entire country, and I am sure that people internationally have seen this situation,” he added. “It’s going to be a great deal, and the only thing better is Damar being out there by then. I don’t know if that will happen, but anyway, we’re excited for Sunday.”
The sight of Hamlin’s collapse, which was broadcast to a North American television audience on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” has drawn an outpouring of support from fans and players across the league. Fans, team owners and players, including Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, have made donations to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which had raised just under $8 million as of Friday afternoon.
AP professional football writer Dennis Waszak Jr. and AP sports writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.
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