Damar Hamlin’s Remarkable Return to Regular-Season Play 

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By Mia Birkes 

Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, played his first regular-season game since his on-field collapse in January. On Oct. 1, 2023, Hamlin joined the Bills’ kickoff return team to open the game against the Miami Dolphins, which the Bills would go on to win 48-20. The Bills had the home advantage, but it seemed the whole stadium was cheering for Hamlin. 

I will never forget the exact moment I watched Hamlin collapse. It was Jan. 2, 2023—I was in the living room with my grandma, and we put on the Bills versus Bengals game because I wanted to see what all the Joe Burrow fuss was about. The Bengals quarterback completed a pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins, who then rushed past a herd of Bills and met Hamlin on the other side. It was a routine tackle for Hamlin, nothing more than what he had done in practice and in games for years. This time turned out to be different. 

Following the tackle, Hamlin got to his feet and adjusted his helmet, and then fell backwards to the ground. Trainers were called over, then the paramedics, and then the nation went silent. Hamlin was given CPR and on-field drones were backed off as the entire Bills team gathered around. Clips of Hamlin’s tackle and collapse were played repeatedly by networks broadcasting the game, as commentators first discussed what could have happened. Once CPR had reached about nine minutes, the discussions stopped and networks cut to commercial after commercial. 

After nearly 20 minutes, Hamlin was moved into the ambulance and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he would stay for the next seven days. Following Hamlin’s departure from the field, the Bills gathered and knelt for a prayer. Close ups of Bills players, including quarterback Josh Allen, were reminiscent of a thousand-yard stare. Tear-stained faces met with shoulder pads over and over as players embraced and cried together. Bengals players, including quarterback Joe Burrow, joined and offered comfort as best they could—some in tears themselves. 

We would not know until later that Hamlin died twice over the course of the first few hours. According to a CNN interview with his uncle, Dorrian Glenn, Hamlin was resuscitated once on the field and then again after arriving at the Medical Center. The Buffalo Bills also released a statement that Hamlin’s heart had stopped on field, and that he remained in critical condition. Hamlin was sedated in the hospital and monitored closely by a large team of medical staff. 

Some days later, on Jan. 5, Hamlin was awake and communicating through writing, reported AP News.  The first question he asked family and friends at his bedside was, “Did we win?” A doctor replied, “yes, Damar, you won. You won the game of life.” 

Hamlin would make several public appearances over the next few months, including speaking about a bill that would increase access to defibrillators in public schools, according to AP News. He would rejoin practice in May doing individual drills, and slowly make a full return to padded contact play. 

Hamlin’s journey has been well documented by his family, fans, and the Buffalo Bills. I am overjoyed that he has been able to return to the sport he loves—he certainly brings joy to the field, both among his teammates and among opposing players who have cheered him on for months.