Damar Hamlin’s old high school teammate grabbed the ball he just intercepted, ran to the 30-yard line, gingerly placed the pigskin at the top of the red-outlined “3,” raised his hands above his head, and formed them into the shape of a heart.
“I’m just glad I got the chance to go out and make a play and honor him the way I did,” said Hamlin’s friend, Colts safety Rodney Thomas II.
Thomas’ gesture may have been the most poignant moment, but it was far from the only shout out to Bills safety on an NFL Sunday full of love for a stricken player whose impact is being felt across the country.
Hamlin’s number – number “3” – was seen throughout the league, outlined on 30 yard lines on fields, worn on special patches on the Bills uniforms and seen on jackets and sweatshirts and even on red hearts hanging outside the back tents. dangled the Bills’ home stadium.
The greatest number of tributes, of course, poured in from that parking lot in Orchard Park, New York, where Buffalo’s 35-23 victory over New England was punctuated by a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Nyheim Hines on the game’s opening play. .
“OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Hamlin tweeted after the quick score.
The safety, whose recovery from his on-field cardiac arrest Monday night in Cincinnati has overtaken every NFL storyline, also shared a photo shortly before kickoff of him making a heart with his hands from his hospital bed with the caption “GAMETIME!!! @BuffaloBills .”
Before that, Ryan Magnuson stood on the lot outside Highmark Stadium in front of a 4 x 10 foot canvas greeting card that he placed at the base of the Bills stadium entrance for fans to sign. The message on the card: “If you get the chance to show some love today, do it. It won’t cost you anything” – a repeat of a tweet Hamlin sent more than two years ago.
Fifteen hundred miles away, and three hours later in Denver, the Chargers and Broncos each ran to the numbers at their respective sidelines as both teams’ No. 3s—Russell Wilson and Derwin James Jr. – met at the 50-yard line, shook hands and knelt in prayer.
Philly ran back Miles Sanders and tweeted a photo of himself wearing a “Love For Damar” sweatshirt and flashing the number “3” while FaceTimen with Hamlin from his hospital.
Not everything was warm and fuzzy.
In Cincinnati, Bengals running back Joe Mixon celebrated a touchdown by mimicking a coin—as would have happened under a belated NFL contingency plan—to determine home field advantage in a potential playoff game between the Bengals and Ravens.
Cincinnati’s 27-16 victory over the Ravens on Sunday prevented that possibility. The Ravens will visit Cincy in the wild card round next week. But saying everything is back to normal in the NFL this week, or for the upcoming playoffs, still feels like a bit of a stretch.
The postseason will no doubt be outfitted with “Love For Damar” sweatshirts and others embroidered with “Hamlin Strong,” as Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes wore during Saturday’s win over the Raiders.
Hamlin sells shirts to benefit first responders
Some may even be wearing shirts sold by Hamlin himself, with proceeds going to first responders and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has been since Monday.
“We all won,” Hamlin tweeted Sunday after the Bills defeated the Patriots. “I want to return an ounce of the love you have shown me. Proceeds from this shirt will go to first responders and the UC Trauma Center. Get yours!”
His tweet included an image of three shirts, each with Hamlin’s hands forming a heart — a hospital ID tag on his right wrist — and “Did We Win?” in great pressure. Hamlin’s first question after waking up on Thursday was whether the Bills had beaten the Cincinnati Bengals in the game when he collapsed on the field.
We all won 🏾.
I want to return an ounce of the love you have shown me. Proceeds from this shirt will go to first responders and the UC Trauma Center.
The postseason will also be filled with reminders that the high stakes of these games are more than a trophy to be handed out at the end of the Super Bowl.
It sure feels a bit off. For example, if Kansas City and Buffalo advance to the AFC title game, that game will be played on a neutral field, in a city yet to be determined.
The heart of this competition beat strongest in Buffalo on Sunday.
In the vast parking lots around the stadium, fans wore homemade shirts and jerseys in Hamlin’s honor.
Sue Sonner wore former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s No. 3 jersey; her husband creatively covered Manuel’s name with Hamlin’s.
“It’s going to be very emotional. I’ll definitely bring some tissues,” said Sonner, who is from Corning, New York and was at the stadium in Cincinnati last Monday.
“We could see the rush and the trauma and the panic and everything. A very bleak, very bleak environment,” she said. “Now that he’s making progress and we think he’s going to be okay, we’re looking forward to playing football again. And hopefully he’s on his way to recovery.”