Bills safety Damar Hamlin returns to action in first regular-season game since cardiac arrest

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) raises his arms while warming up prior to an NFL...
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) raises his arms while warming up prior to an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)(AP)
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 8:19 PM CDT
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Damar Hamlin was the last Buffalo Bills player to exit the tunnel and ran the length of the field with his arms spread out wide at his sides as if he were flying.

He might as well have been airborne on Sunday.

Hamlin’s emotions soared as he suited up for his first regular-season game some nine months since having a near-death experience on the field at Cincinnati.

“Really big. That moment was everything to me,” Hamlin said following a 48-20 win over the Miami Dolphins.

“I think it was more so about promising to myself than anything else, just showing myself that I have the courage, I have the strength, that I have the pride, everything, all those words, in me to be able to go through something traumatic and to be able to come back from it,” he added. “To be able to still do what I love at the highest level in the world is amazing.”

Hamlin’s comeback from one the most terrifying moments in NFL history — he went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated during a game at the Bengals on Jan. 2 — is now complete.

The third-year player took the field on the opening kickoff as part of Buffalo’s return team. Hamlin didn’t register a tackle with his role limited to special teams duty. It was still playing football, something the 25-year-old vowed he’d do after being cleared by doctors in April.

“Well, it was a choice I made, so I knew it would come someday,” Hamlin said. “Just all about staying ready and being ready to do my part. That’s been my goal ever since I became a Bill.”

After being a healthy scratch through the first three weeks of the season, Hamlin’s chance to play came after starting safety Jordan Poyer was sidelined by a knee injury this week.

After running out onto the field, Hamlin came to a stop in the far end zone, where he threw up his arms before a cheering crowd, and then knelt in prayer.

Hamlin has shown no signs of tentativeness. He passed every on-field test he faced before making the Bills’ 53-player roster in August. He played in all three of Buffalo’s preseason games, totaling nine tackles.

His heart stopped as a result of commotio cordis, which happens when a direct blow at a specific point in a heartbeat causes cardiac arrest. Doctors have assured Hamlin he can resume playing without any fear of setbacks or reoccurrence.

Coach Sean McDermott was overjoyed and called it a “surreal moment” to watch cameras crowd around Hamlin as he huddled with his teammates in the tunnel before heading out for pregame warmups.

“He deserves the attention he gets. I love the fact that he makes it about the team in so many ways,” McDermott said. “What, nine months ago, this young man is in the situation he was in, and now he’s back.”

Safety Micah Hyde, sitting next to Hamlin at the postgame podium, leaned over and hugged his teammate while slapping him on the back.

“I’m so proud of this guy right here. I said it way back when, just to see what he went through and being there for each and every step to see D-Ham come back, put the pads on,” Hyde said. “He’s my brother right here. I love him to death.”