Less than a week since their teammate Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field of play, the Buffalo Bills are set to host the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Hamlin collapsed during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals and was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in front of visibly distressed players and a stunned stadium.
With the world waiting anxiously for updates, the Bills said Thursday that there had been a “remarkable improvement” in his health, with doctors saying the player’s “neurological condition and function is intact.”
On Friday, the team tweeted that Hamlin’s breathing tube had been removed overnight, according to doctors, and he’s been able to talk with his family and health care providers.
The Bills safety said on Instagram on Saturday that he was thankful for the love he’s received and asked for continued prayers for a “long road” ahead.
Hamlin’s teammates, many of whom were in tears as they watched the medical team resuscitate the 24-year-old, met Wednesday for a walk-through and held their first full practice of the week Thursday.
Hamlin was able to join a team meeting via FaceTime on Friday and was able talk to players and coaches. “Love you boys,” he told the team.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters that players “stood up right away and clapped for him” when Hamlin showed up on the call.
In a news conference ahead of Sunday’s game, Bills quarterback Josh Allen told reporters that focusing on football has been hard with their teammate still in hospital.
“I think putting that helmet back on was a really good thing for our team and just to go through that process,” he said Thursday.
“But I would be lying to you if I didn’t say, some people are going to be changed forever after being on the field and witnessing that and feeling those emotions.
“The best way we can continue to move forward, obviously, the updates we keep getting on Damar, really lift our spirits. Leaning on each other, talking to each other.
“We’ve had some very open and honest and deep talks. Some unbelievable, this sounds weird, but some embraces as men, just hugging somebody and actually just leaning into them.
“There’s been a lot of that going around and you need every bit of it, you really do. I think the fact that we just keep hearing good news about Damar, it just keeps pushing us forward.”
Hamlin’s collapse is the latest in a string of recent tragedies to have struck the community of Buffalo, including a racist mass shooting and a historic blizzard that left at least 41 people dead in Erie County, New York.
A high-ranking official within the Bills organization told CNN’s Coy Wire that they broke down in tears after day and night-long meetings on Tuesday, sobbing because of the heaviness of the situation.
The series of difficult blows to Buffalo have emotionally piled up within the organization, the source said, adding that through it all, the team has tried to be a source of strength for the city.
McDermott has been praised by his players for his handling of Hamlin’s situation and the 48-year-old says the number-one priority is the health and well-being of his players.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, McDermott said a Zoom call with Damar’s father, Mario, on Wednesday had helped the players feel more comfortable about preparing for the game.
“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,” McDermott said Thursday.
“Damar would have wanted it that way. And so that includes our game against New England this week. And I think that has helped.”
Bills’ offensive lineman Dion Dawkins told CNN that the short meeting “took a whole bunch of weight off our shoulders.”
“Seeing his father’s expression on his face, it was just honestly all we needed to see to take a giant step forward,” Dawkins told CNN’s Don Lemon Friday.
The whole NFL community has rallied around Hamlin and his team this week and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said preparing to face the Bills has been difficult.
“We’re all here, you know, we have a job to do but really we’re just concerned about him, his family and I’m just trying to get updates and make sure that he’s okay and be there for the Bills and their organization as well,” he told reporters.
“So definitely a lot of emotions and things like that running around and to try and stay focused on the game is hard.
“It’s a hard thing to do and that’s just one thing you have to do is focus on each day and obviously send your prayers and also continue your routine the best you can.”