But for Damar Hamlin, Saturday meant far more. Yes, hitting the field in a padded practice at training camp for the first time following his life-threatening battle with cardiac arrest was a significant step in what’s been an incredible story eight months in the making. Things were different in facing the Colts. Friendly fire this wasn’t. Hamlin wasn’t playing against his own teammates, and it’s likely many of the players on the other side of the line of scrimmage weren’t necessarily worried about protecting him. They had their own battles to fight in earning a spot on the Colts’ roster.
And wouldn’t you know it — Damar Hamlin made a huge impact early on in Saturday’s clash with Indianapolis. With Buffalo facing a 4th & 1 and the Colts on their 40-yard line, head coach/defensive coordinator Sean McDermott called for a blitz. It was go time, just four downs into Hamlin’s first full-contact game action since he suffered a cardiac-arrest emergency on-field in January. Hamlin broke through the line of scrimmage and brought down running back Evan Hull for no gain, ending the drive.
In total, Hamlin played two-plus defensive series between the first and second quarters, making tackles. But that stop on fourth down might go down as one of the most memorable plays of the entire season.
One of Hamlin’s best attributes is his ability as a tackler in the box, especially on running plays. His physical brand of football likely drew McDermott and One Bills Drive to draft him. When Micah Hyde was lost for the season following his own very serious injury, one that ultimately required surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, it was Hamlin who stepped in with his physical brand of safety play.
Still, there’s far more to Hamlin’s game than just his physical nature — and his head coach was quick to point out Hamlin’s character, following Saturday’s victory:
“What we just witnessed, to me, is remarkable. It’s a true sign of a young man’s courage and obviously everyone who helped him to get to this point. I know there was a football game going on out there today, but I mean a truly remarkable display of courage and strength and faith.”
Hamlin continually speaks of the milestones he’s checking off in his return bid to playing professional football. He also understands the importance of surrounding himself with people who inspire him on this journey. Saturday’s game action was a truly significant step, and Hamlin’s approach to playing, his success in limited action — it bodes well for his NFL future. There will of course be more challenges to face head on, in the coming weeks and down the road beyond anyone’s radar. Hamlin appears more than ready to hit each one as they come.
“... it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I think it’ll be like that probably every game. But, even before my situation... it’s kinda like that. You know we all get butterflies until we get that first contact. That’s like universal for being an athlete. That just lets you know you’re human and lets you know you’re living in the moment. My dad taught me something when I was younger, because I used to get real bad nerves before a game, to where it was like uncontrollable and I wouldn’t be able to function, in a way. He was like ‘it’s good to be nervous — that means you care, you’re ready.’ So I still carry that with me. So when I’m feeling those nerves, when I’m feeling those emotions, it just means I really love this. I love this. I wanna be here. I wanna play. I wanna do good. I wanna be one of the greats. I wanna be remembered as somebody who stood for something, and who made a difference when I was out there on the field.”
Damar Hamlin humbly embodies the best of the human spirit — our ability to adapt and refocus while overcoming the most difficult obstacles in our way. In Hamlin, there is no better adopted son of Buffalo. With him, Bills Mafia will continue to charge forward, facing each new goal with full hearts and one focus: perseverance.
Next up For Hamlin: Heading back to his hometown for a Week 2 preseason clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s certain to be an emotional game for Hamlin and many from the Steel City.