ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — On Wednesday night, Mario Hamlin, the father of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, addressed the entire Buffalo Bills squad in a video conference from Cincinnati. He and his wife, Nina, had been bedside at a hospital with their son, but wanted to deliver a message to the team.
Buffalo Coach Sean McDermott recounted for reporters the gist of that missive for reporters the next day: Damar, Mario said, would want the team to play.
Both McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the message — combined with Damar Hamlin’s improving condition as he continues to be treated after suffering a cardiac arrest in Monday’s game — was the lift the Bills needed to encourage them to focus on their jobs, even as they continue to pray and worry about their teammate and friend.
Hamlin, 24, collapsed after making what appeared to be a routine tackle of Bengals receiver Tee Higgins during a game broadcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
What followed was a harrowing 10 minutes as medical professionals attended to him on the field and administered CPR, while Bills players knelt in a circle around him. On the sidelines, players wept and hugged. Broadcasters, the shock also evident in their voices, attempted to narrate the scene as Hamlin was eventually placed in an ambulance and rushed to a hospital.
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The game was suspended, after McDermott consulted with this team, the officials, and Bengals Coach Zac Taylor. The league announced Thursday night that the game would not be completed.
During the video conference Wednesday, McDermott said Mario Hamlin’s message encouraged the Bills.
“The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves, that Damar would have wanted it that way,” McDermott recounted. “And so that includes our game against New England this week.”
Both Allen and McDermott answered questions from the news media for about 40 minutes, describing the terrifying scene and their efforts this week to both process their emotions and prepare for a football game Sunday at home against the New England Patriots that even the coach and players agreed seemed trivial compared to what happened to Hamlin.
“The scene just plays over and over in your head,” Allen said. “It’s hard to actually describe how I felt, how my teammates felt at the moment.”
But to learn that Hamlin was writing messages and holding hands with loved ones just three days after coming close to losing his life on the field, Allen said, “There’s nothing you could have told us to bring our day down after that.”
Allen said he and his teammates were looking forward to reuniting with Hamlin so they can “love up on him.”
McDermott, who has made players’ mental well-being a priority of his coaching style, said after the Bills returned from Cincinnati that there were impromptu team meetings and counselors available for players and staff.
“Mental health is real,” McDermott said. “The health and well-being of your staff and your players is the No. 1 job of a coach in this situation.”
Allen said he invited all his teammates to his home this week, and those who joined him prayed and spent time together to decompress and talk about Hamlin.
Bills cornerback Dane Jackson, who also played with Hamlin at the University of Pittsburgh, said the two men share a special bond. Before every game, Jackson said, he and Hamlin usually found each other on the sidelines, where they would hug and tell each other, “I love you.”
It was a tradition that Jackson thought of frequently after he experienced a frightening neck injury during Week 2 of this season. As he was being loaded into an ambulance, one voice stood out among all his teammates, he said. It was Hamlin’s.
“He said, ‘I love you, D-Jack,’” Jackson said. He looks forward to reuniting with his friend, so he can relay the same message.