Bills pay tribute to Hamlin in first game since his cardiac arrest
The NFL's Buffalo Bills made an emotional return to the field on Sunday with a slew of tributes in honor of safety Damar Hamlin, who is recovering after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game last week.
In a tribute to Hamlin's uniform number, Bills players wore "Love for Damar 3" T-shirts ahead of their game against the New England Patriots while Buffalo also had "3" jersey patches stitched on their blue uniforms.
Even the "3" in each 30-yard-line number on the field was outlined in Bills blue, a gesture also made at stadiums around the league on the final day of the NFL's regular season.
Prior to kickoff, Bills players gathered at midfield and held three fingers up in the air before the team's public address announcer asked those in attendance, many with signs in support of Hamlin, to cheer for his recovery.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott, speaking in a televised interview, said he texted with Hamlin earlier on Sunday and that his player would be tuned in to the game.
"His spirit is so positive and he is going to be locked in he said to watching the guys today, and we will be thinking of him for sure," said McDermott.
Hamlin also took to Twitter ahead of the game: "GameDay.. Nothing I Want More Than To Be Running Out That Tunnel With My Brothers. God Using Me In A Different Way Today. Tell Someone You Love Them Today!" let's go @BuffaloBills."
The 24-year-old Hamlin collapsed during a game last Monday in Cincinnati moments after making a tackle and then had to have his heartbeat restored on the field.
Hamlin began to wake up two days later and has had his breathing tube removed. He also surprised team mates on Friday during a video call in which he said "love you, boys," flexed his biceps and flashed a heart symbol with his hands.
In the most recent health update provided by the Bills on Saturday, the team described Hamlin's neurological function as "excellent" while still in critical care.
McDermott said the positive news on Hamlin's recovery over the last few days allowed the Bills to ease their minds and turn their attention back to football.
"It's been a huge lift," McDermott said of Hamlin's improving situation. "Really for the guys to get their minds off of Damar a little bit, just a little bit enough to focus on their preparation for this game today."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, wearing a "3" hat, was among those in attendance in Buffalo where a stream of fans lined up outside the stadium to sign a giant card for Hamlin.
"Thank you medical staff", "Love for Damar", "Do it for Hamlin", "Still praying", and "Hamlin Strong" were among the many signs being held up inside the stadium.
McDermott said despite an emotional week his players were ready to return to playing football.
"These guys have been amazing all season and this week in particular with their focus and their love for one another," said McDermott. "I hate to say anything else other than I think they will be ready to go."
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