ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Honoring the wishes of Damar Hamlin and his family, the Bills are resolved to get back on the field Sunday and continue their Super Bowl championship pursuit.
“We’re gonna go out there and play for 3,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said Thursday. “That’s what he wants. That’s what his family wants.”
The Bills were uplifted by positive news on Hamlin’s health, three days after the 24-year-old collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.
“We’ll be playing with less heavy hearts now,” Allen said.
Hamlin’s father Mario told the team that his son would want them to remain focused on Sunday’s game and the playoffs ahead, Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
“Yesterday Damar’s father spoke to the team and really his message was the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way,” McDermott said. “We owe that to Damar, and we owe that to his family.”
Allen smiled at the doctor’s report that Hamlin asked whether the Bills won the game soon after he awakened and was able to communicate in writing.
“His dad said the first thing that he’s going to ask when he wakes up is who won the game?” Allen said. “And sure enough, that’s what he did, man. As teammates, you love hearing that response, that the first thing on his mind wasn’t, you know, poor me. It was how are my teammates doing? Did we win this game? And that’s powerful in itself.”
Allen said getting back on the practice field Thursday “was a really good thing for our team, just to kind of go through that process.”
“But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say some people will be changed forever,” Allen added. “After being on the field and witnessing that, and feeling those emotions. But again, the best way that we can continue to move forward, obviously, the updates that we keep getting on Damar really lifts our spirits, leaning on each each other, talking to each other.
“We’ve had some very open and honest and deep talks. Some unbelievable, it sounds weird, but embraces as men, just hugging somebody and actually leaning into them. There’s been a lot of that going around. And you need every bit of it. You really do.”
Returning to play less than a week after Monday night’s traumatic on-field experience is another display of resiliency from a Bills team and the community it represents.
“How do I know that we’ll be able to overcome is — we have to,” McDermott said. “Just like we’ve done many times before, and this city, and the people of Western New York that have dealt with what they’ve dealt with. That’s what you do. And I’ve never been around a city or region like this that is so in sync, their teams and their fan base. And I mean that.”
McDermott got emotional when asked about the flood of donations to Hamlin’s charitable foundation, which had totaled more than $7 million on Thursday.
“It’s amazing to me to know the impact that this has had on so many people,” McDermott said after lowering his head in silence for about 10 seconds. “And for now, Damar to be awake and his mom to be able to share that with him is incredible,” concluded the tearful coach.
McDermott opened his remarks with gratitude for several groups: first responders, on-field medics, doctors, nurses, game officials, staff from the Bills and Bengals, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL Players Association, and Bills owner Terry Pegula.
“The amount of faith, hope and love that we saw on display over the last three days has been nothing short of amazing,” McDermott said. “Fans of both the Bills and Bengals, along with many other fans and organizations that we’ve heard from over the last three days.”
McDermott gave special thanks to coach Zac Taylor and those in the Bengals organization for putting competitive instincts aside and showing compassion for Hamlin and the Bills.
“As competitive as this league is, Zac quickly recognized the situation,” McDermott said. “When you can engage with the opposing coach, and Zac and I were on the same page so quickly there, it was amazing how compassionate Zac was, and his players. Their captains came down to our locker room and met with our team and captains. And just an amazing show of compassion, empathy, love.”
While Hamlin’s health was at the top of the Bills’ minds, McDermott is mindful of how players and coaches’ mental health could have been affected by witnessing a traumatic event on the field.
“Mental health is real,” McDermott said. “I think as a coach, and as leaders of organizations, No. 1, Terry Pegula does a great job of leading in that regard for us. But the job description of a coach is not just coaching X’s and O’s. It’s much more than that. And so to me, the health and well-being of your staff and players is the No. 1 job of a coach in this situation.”