ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – Damar Hamlin’s old high school teammate caught the ball he just intercepted, jogging to the 30-yard line, carefully placed pig skin On top of the red-outlined “3,” raise your arms above your head and make a heart shape.
Hamlin’s friend, Colts safety Rodney Thomas II, said, “I’m just glad I got a chance to go out there and make a play and honor him like I did.”
Thomas’ gesture may have been the most poignant moment, but it was far from the only scream for the Bills’ safety on an NFL Sunday that was filled with love for a suffering player whose effects are being felt across the country.
Hamlin’s number – the number “3” – was displayed everywhere in the league, underlined on the 30-yard lines on the field, worn on special patches on Bills uniforms and jackets and sweatshirts and even that used to be painted on red hearts hanging from the tailgate tent Outside Bills home stadium.
The highest amount of tributes, naturally, poured in from that parking lot at New York’s Orchard Park, where Buffalo’s 35–23 victory over New England was capped by a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Graham Hines on the opening play of the game. was paused. ,
“OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Hamlin tweeted after the quick score.
security, whose recovery after falling Monday night in Cincinnati has outdone every NFL story, also shared a picture Shortly before kickoff, he makes a heart with his hands from a hospital bed with the text “GAMETIME!!!” @BuffaloBills.
Earlier, in the lot outside Highmark Stadium, Ryan Magnuson stood in front of a 4-x-10-foot canvas greeting card he held out for fans to sign at the entrance to Bills Stadium. Message on the card: “If you get a chance to show some love today, do it. It won’t cost you anything” — a Tweet Hamlin sent Back in 2021.
“It’s been very positive. I’ve seen Bills fans, I’ve seen Patriots fans and other people wearing NFL jerseys coming. I think it’s more of a team thing at this point,” Magnuson said.
Fifteen-hundred miles away, and three hours later in Denver, the Chargers and Broncos each walked to the numbers and linked arms near their respective sides before the first snap of the game, while the No. 3s on both teams—Russell Wilson and Darwin James Jr. . – met at the 50-yard line, shook hands and knelt in prayer.
Philly running back Miles Sanders tweeted a photo of himself wearing a “Love for Asphalt” sweatshirt and flashing the number “3” while FaceTiming with Hamlin from the hospital.
Not everything was warm and fuzzy.
In Cincinnati, Bengals running back Joe Mixon simulating the flip of a coin — the choice of which could have been made according to the NFL contingency plan — to decide home-field advantage in a possible playoff game between the Bengals and Ravens.
Cincinnati’s 27-16 victory over the Ravens on Sunday put an end to that possibility. The Ravens visit Cincy next week in the wild-card round. But to say that all is back to normal in the NFL this week or for the upcoming playoffs still seems like a bit of a stretch.
The post-season is bound to be filled with “Love for Dummer” sweatshirts and others embroidered with “Hamlin Strong,” the prime of which was worn by quarterback Patrick Mahomes during Saturday’s win over the Raiders. Some may even wear shirts sold by hamlin himself, with proceeds going to first responders and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has been since collapsing on the field and his heartbeat was restored by medical staff last Monday.
It’s bound to be a reminder that the high stakes of these games exceed the trophy handed out at the end of the Super Bowl.
It’s bound to feel a little off. For example, if the Chiefs and Bills advance to the AFC title game, that game will be played at a neutral field, in a city still to be determined.
The heart of this league was beating loudest in Buffalo on Sunday.
In the vast parking lot surrounding the stadium, fans wore self-made shirts and jerseys in Hamlin’s honor.
Sue Sonner wore former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s No. 3 jersey; Her husband creatively covered up Manuel’s name and replaced it with Hamlin’s.
“It’s going to be very emotional. I’m definitely going to be carrying some tissues with me,” said Sonner, who is from Corning, New York and was also at Cincinnati’s stadium last Monday.
“We could see the panic and the shock and the terror and all that. A very sad, very sad atmosphere,” he said. “Now that he’s making progress and we think he’ll be fine, we’re looking forward to playing football again.” Excited for. And hope he is on the road to recovery.”
AP Sports Writers Mitch Stacey in Cincinnati, Eddie Pels in Denver, Mike Marott in Indianapolis and AP freelance writers Lori Chase and Joanna Bronstein in Orchard Park contributed.
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