Hamlin of the Bills, who is breathing on his own, joins the team via video


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It was cheering enough for the Buffalo Bills staff and players to see Damar Hamlin appear on the video screen in the team’s meeting room Friday — “larger than life,” coach Sean said McDermott — for the first time since the safety collapsed and had to be resuscitated on the field.

What got everyone emotional was hearing Hamlin, his mouth and throat still open, say quietly shortly after the breathing tube was removed: ” Love you guys.”

“It’s amazing. Touchingly. “To see Damar, number one, with my own eyes, I know that’s something I’ve been looking forward to, kind of what I need to see,” McDermott said. “And look at the reaction of the players. They immediately stood up, clapped their hands and shouted something. It was a pretty cool exchange.”

Four days after his heart stopped following what appeared to be a routine tackle in a game, Hamlin, 24, enjoyed a moment of joy from his hospital room in Cincinnati and the Bills, celebrating the next step in what doctors called a remarkable recovery.

“We got our boy, man. That’s all that matters,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said.

“To see the boy’s face, to see him smile and to see him walk into the camera like that,” Dawkins said, flexing his muscles to imitate Hamlin, “was everything. And then hearing him speak was literally everything. This is what we needed.”

Hamlin is now breathing and talking on his own, and traded writing platform he used to communicate. Although there is no timetable for his release, Hamlin’s doctors said Thursday that breathing on his own and continued signs of improvement are the final steps toward his release from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Hamlin spent the first two days in the hospital under sedation. Hamlin was able to follow commands and grab people’s hands when he woke up Wednesday night. The breathing tube has been removed, the team said Friday, and Hamlin’s “neurological function remains intact.”

The team did not say whether Hamlin remains in critical condition or has been moved from intensive care.

In an expected formality, the Bills placed Hamlin on the season-ending injured list and activated rookie cornerback Christian Benford from IR. Benford is out after suffering an oblique injury on Thanksgiving Day.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up when he said, ‘I love you guys,'” said general manager Brandon Beane, who returned to Buffalo on Thursday after spending three days at Hamlin’s bedside with the player’s family.

The turning point in Hamlin’s recovery, at least for Bean, came Thursday morning when they shared a hug.

“Just to be able to hug him and have the grip,” Bean said, before recalling what he told Hamlin’s father, Mario. “I told him I wasn’t crying, but it was emotional and there were a lot of grown men crying there yesterday. Something I will never forget.”

The NFL’s reaction on Friday was just as touching.

“Excellent. It probably lifted the spirits for the entire league,” said New York Giants coach Brian Daboll, who spent the previous four seasons as the Bills’ offensive coordinator. “It gives you a boost because you’re praying so hard for a young person.”

The NFL announced plans to show support for Hamlin during all Week 18 games, including a pregame cheer by painting Hamlin’s No. 3 on the 30-yard line and “Love for Damar 3” on pregame jerseys. The Bills will also wear “3” jersey patches.

New York Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner already planned to wear Hamlin’s No. 3 jersey during warmups before the team’s game at Miami on Sunday.

“What a warrior. He is so strong, he must be a fighter,” Gardner said. “I was so happy that he was able to come back into the world.”

Hamlin’s engagement has energized the Bills (12-3) and allowed them to turn their attention to Sunday’s season-ending home game against the New England Patriots (8-8).

“It will be a celebration of life and long life,” Bean said, looking ahead.

“This will not only be a celebration for Buffalo, but for the entire country, and I’m sure people around the world have been watching this situation,” he added. “It’s going to be a cool deal and the only thing that’s going to be better is if Damar is there by then. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but either way we’re excited for Sunday.”

The spectacle of Hamlin’s collapse, broadcast to a North American television audience on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” led to an outpouring of support from fans and players around the league. Fans, team owners and players — including Tom Brady and Russell Wilson — have donated to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which had raised just under $8 million as of Friday.

Hamlin of the Bills, who is breathing on his own, joins the team via video

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