ORCHARD PARK, NY – The Buffalo Bills and their fans have planned several tributes to safety Damar Hamlin for the team’s game Sunday – No. 3 jerseys, homemade t-shirts and even a 10 foot wide recovery card.
There was no script for what happened once the Bills returned to action.
On their first play since a terrifying scene Monday when Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during a game in Cincinnati, Bills returning Nyheim Hines ran the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against the New England Patriots.
The emotional and uplifting score was one of the first highlights of a cathartic day at Buffalo. A week-long wave of support continued as the Bills returned to the field for the first time since Hamlin had to be resuscitated after making a tackle during the first quarter in Cincinnati. Hamlin has since made what doctors call a remarkable recovery.
Although still listed in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Saturday, Hamlin’s neurological function was rated as excellent and he is breathing fully on his own while still being able to speak.
“OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Hamlin tweeted after Hines’ touchdown. He also shared a photo of himself making a heart shape with his hands from his hospital bed shortly before kick-off with the text “GAMETIME!!! @BuffaloBills.
Fans came to the Buffalo game ready to celebrate Hamlin’s recovery. This included sign shop owner Ryan Magnuson, who designed a 4ft by 10ft canvas map, which he erected at the base of the Bills Stadium entrance for all to see – and sign it.
“It was very positive. I saw Bills fans, I saw Patriots fans and people in other NFL jerseys coming. I think it’s more important than a team issue at this point,” Magnuson said. “It’s for Damar.”
Magnuson’s goal is to get his oversized card sent to Hamlin.
Fans filled the front of the greeting board about three hours before kickoff, offering messages such as “Stay Strong” and “Love.” Some wore No. 3 jerseys, which is Hamlin’s number.
“Watching it live was sad to see,” said Kyle Blaney, wearing a Patriots jersey. “But it’s good to see everyone coming together to support him, not just Bills fans.”
An extended pre-game ceremony began with the Bills’ medical and athletic coaching staff shown onto the field to a roaring ovation. The Bills entered the stadium with many players carrying flags that read “Pray for Damar 3”. Fans held cardboard cutouts of No. 3 and red hearts.
Former Bills running back LeSean McCoy led the pregame charge by asking fans to hold up three fingers while chanting “Let’s Go Buffalo!”
NFL fans around the world joined in support for Hamlin this week, many of whom have contributed more than $8 million to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation. Sunday was a time to pay tribute together during the final week of the NFL season.
The electronic signs ringing in the parking lots at Highmark Stadium all bore the message “Love For Damar 3”. Some fans decorated their homes in the Bills’ blue and red colors with various tributes to Hamlin.
Players from both teams took to the field for warm-ups wearing shirts honoring Hamlin. Many Patriots players wore black sweatshirts with the words “Love for Damar” printed on the front. Several Bills players wore T-shirts with Hamlin’s likeness on the front and back.
The NFL is honoring the player in all Week 18 games, which began Saturday, including a moment of pre-game support and the painting of Hamlin’s No. 3 on the 30-yard line. The Bills will also wear “3” jersey patches.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was also scheduled to attend the Bills game.
Hamlin was celebrated by fans in Cincinnati, where the Bengals hosted Baltimore.
“It’s been so good that Damar is fine,” David Coning said outside the Bengals’ Paycor Stadium. “We have seen pictures of him. He has a smile. He texted. So I think that’s a big relief for everybody. So hopefully we can somehow get back to normal.
In the vast parking lots surrounding the Bills’ stadium, many fans wore homemade shirts and jerseys honoring Hamlin.
Sue Sonner wore former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s No. 3 jersey, in which her husband covered the player’s name with Hamlin.
“It’s going to be very emotional. I take tissues with me for sure,” said Sonner, who is from Corning, New York, and attended the game in Cincinnati.
“We could see the rush and the trauma and the panic and all that. A very dark, very dark environment,” she said. “Now that he’s progressing and we think he’ll be fine, now we’re excited to be playing football again. And hopefully he’s on the road to recovery.
Ken Johnson, who is nicknamed “Pinto Ron” and among the Bills’ most famous hookers, had nothing special planned for Sunday, while saying he expected many in attendance to be spontaneous to honor Hamlin.
“You never know if a bunch of people are going to get on the van and start giving an emotional speech or something,” said Johnson, who hasn’t missed a Bills game at home or on the road. since the start of the 1994 season. season, except game fans were not allowed to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It just cements the Bills Mafia legacy,” Johnson said of the fan show of support.
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