Buffalo Bills return kickoff for touchdown in first game since Damar Hamlin’s collapse

The Buffalo Bills returned to the field Sunday for the first time since the safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the spotand in a play that seemed straight out of a movie, returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in front of a packed house filled with tens of thousands of fans who erupted in celebration.

On the first play of the game against the New England Patriots, running back Nyheim Hines took the kickoff 96 yards to the house to give Buffalo an early 7–0 lead.

Shortly before the match started, Hamlin, who made his first public comment on Saturdaytweeted one picture of himself and his family preparing to watch the game from his hospital bed. He followed that up shortly after the opening touchdown with another tweet:

The 24-year-old collapsed on the field after his heart stopped during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin was administered CPR on the field by medical personnel before being loaded into an ambulance and rushed to the intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was sedated for several days. The Bills on Friday said he showed significant improvement, and his breathing tube has been removed.

The team said Saturday that he remains in critical condition, but he continues to breathe on his own and his “neurological function is excellent.”

Throughout Buffalo, the famous “Bills Mafia” has come out to support the team and Hamlin.

Just a store-bought get well card wasn’t enough for Bills fan Ryan Magnuson to show his support for Hamlin.

The owner of a sign shop, Magnuson took the next step by designing a 4-by-10-foot canvas card, which he erected at the foot of the Bills’ stadium entrance for everyone to see — and sign — as they arrived for Buffalo’s game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

“It’s been really positive. I’ve seen Bills fans, I’ve seen Patriots fans and people wearing other NFL jerseys come up. I think this is bigger than a team thing at this point,” Magnuson said. “This is for Damar.”

Fans filled the front of the sign with well-wishes around three hours before kick-off, giving messages such as “Stay Strong” and “Love”. Some wore No. 3 jerseys, which is Hamlin’s number.

“Seeing it live, it was sad to see,” said Kyle Blaney, wearing a Patriots jersey. “But it’s good to see everyone coming together to support him, not just Bills fans.”

NFL fans everywhere came out in support of Hamlin this week, including many who contributed over $8 million to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation. Sunday provided a chance to celebrate together during the final week of the NFL season.

The electronic signs ringing the parking lots of Highmark Stadium all bore the message “Love For Damar 3.” Some fans decorated their homes in the Bills’ blue and red colors with various tributes to Hamlin.

Players from both teams came onto the field for warmups wearing shirts honoring Hamlin. Many Patriots players wore black sweatshirts with the words “Love for Damar” printed on the front. Several Bills players wore T-shirts with Hamlin’s likeness front and back.

Patriots Bills Football
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie carries a flag displaying the number 3 in support of safety Damar Hamlin before a game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / AP

The NFL is paying tribute to the player during every game in Week 18, which began Saturday, including a moment of support before the game and painting Hamlin’s No. 3 at the 30-yard line. The Bills will also wear “3” jersey patches.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was also scheduled to attend the Bills game.

Hamlin was celebrated by fans in Cincinnati, where the Bengals were hosting Baltimore.

“It’s been so good that Damar is OK,” said David Coning, outside the Bengals’ Paycor Stadium. “We’ve seen pictures of him. He’s got a smile. He’s been texting. So I think it’s a big relief for everybody. So hopefully we can get back to normal.”

In the vast parking lots surrounding the Bills’ stadium, many fans wore homemade shirts and jerseys honoring Hamlin.

Sue Sonner wore former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s No. 3 jersey, with her husband overlaying the player’s name with Hamlin.

“It’s going to be very emotional. I’ll probably take some tissues with me,” said Sonner, who is from Corning, New York, and attended the game in Cincinnati.

“We could see the devastation and the trauma and the panic and all that. Such a very bleak, very bleak environment,” she said. “Now that he’s moving on and we think he’s going to be fine, now we’re excited to play football again. And hopefully he’s on the mend.”

Ken Johnson, who goes by the nickname “Pinto Ron” and is among the Bills’ best-known tailgaters, had nothing special planned for Sunday, while he said he expected many in attendance to be spontaneous in honoring Hamlin.

“You never know if a bunch of people are going to climb on top of the van and start giving an emotional speech or something,” said Johnson, who hasn’t missed a Bills home or road game since the start of the 1994 season. with the exception of matches fans were not allowed to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It just cements the legacy of Bill’s Mafia,” Johnson said of the fans’ support.

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