The Buffalo Bills are set to face the Cincinnati Bengals next week for the first time since Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse brought a game between the two teams to a halt and set off a national outpouring of support.
The Bills and Bengals each advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs Sunday, with the Bengals defeating division foes Baltimore Ravens 24-17 at Paycor Stadium and Buffalo earlier in the day winning 34-31 in a game against the Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium.
The reunion set for January 22 is sure to be an emotional one, coming 20 days after Hamlin, a defensive player in his second NFL season, suffered a cardiac arrest and fell to the ground in front of a shocked stadium following a tackle.
That night, players were in tears as they watched a medical team resuscitate the 24-year-old before an ambulance carried him off the field in critical condition. Hamlin was discharged Wednesday after a hospital stay watched nationwide that involved him being sedated and put on a ventilator.
The remainder of the Bills-Bengals game was canceled as Hamlin remained hospitalized and NFL teams and fans across the league paid tribute to the football player with T-shirts, signs, jersey patches and on-field prayers.
“Now that everyone has the news that he’s doing a lot better and he’s back with the team, that makes us feel a lot better about playing football,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Sunday.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor expressed excitement over playing against Buffalo at New York’s Highmark Stadium.
“I feel like two deserving teams. Buffalo is one of the greatest environments to go play in all of football. I’ve been there many, many times and it’s a fun environment,” Taylor said. “It’s a worthy playoff environment and so our guys are going to be juiced up and ready to go. Should be a heck of a game.”
Hamlin visited the team’s facility at Orchard Park in New York Saturday, ahead of Buffalo’s victory over Miami.
Bills players described an emotional reunion with Hamlin, with teammates embracing and gathering around to ask questions.
“I got to say hello to him and his family,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. “Obviously a big ole hug and there was a big line of guys ready to love up on him. It was a blessing come true to see him back in the facility.”
Hamlin was initially hospitalized in Cincinnati but was transferred to a Buffalo facility last Monday and discharged a few days later. Even from his hospital bed, Hamlin watched his teammates games on TV and cheered them on in a series of tweets.
But it was seeing him in person that brought joy to the team.
“For him to be in the building, it brought smiles and happy tears to everybody in the building. Just to see him walking around, healthy, recovering well,” Bills safety Dean Marlowe said.
“We sat next to him all around the facility just kind of asked him just a couple questions, how he’s feeling and stuff,” Marlowe said. “All we needed was just to see his face and seeing him walking around. Once we knew he was healthy, we kind of had a weight lifted off our shoulders but then actually seeing him in person it was amazing. Every guy on the team was so happy to see him.”
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said word of Hamlin’s visit spread quickly.
“It was great having him. He came to walkthrough … along with both of his parents and his little brother,” McDermott said.
“Word traveled fast because by the end of walkthrough everyone had gotten down there to say hello … Good to see him back in the building and good to have his parents there as well,” McDermott said.
Prior to the game on Sunday, Hamlin tweeted that he would be watching from home.
“My heart is with my guys as they compete today!” Hamlin tweeted. “Supporting from home as I focus on my recovery. Nothing I want more than to be out there with them!”