The Buffalo Bills return to opening kickoff for touchdown in the first game since Damar Hamlin collapsed

The Buffalo Bills return to opening kickoff for touchdown in the first game since Damar Hamlin collapsed

The Buffalo Bills return to opening kickoff for touchdown in the first game since Damar Hamlin collapsed

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

In the first game against the New England Patriots, running back Nyheim Hines brought in the kickoff 96 yards to give Buffalo an early 7-0 lead.

Just before the game started, Hamlin who made his first public comment on Saturdaytweeted a photo of himself and his family preparing to watch the matchup from his hospital bed. He followed up with another tweet shortly after the first touchdown:

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

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

Across Buffalo, the famous “Bills Mafia” has sprung into action to support the team and Hamlin.

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

Sign shop owner Magnuson took the next step by designing a 4-by-10-foot canvas map that he placed at the foot of the Bills Stadium entrance for all to see — and sign — as they got to Buffalo’s game on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

β€œIt was very positive. I’ve seen Bills fans, I’ve seen Patriots fans and people wearing other NFL jerseys. I think it’s more than a team thing at this point,” said Magnuson. “This is for Damar.”

Fans lined the front of the sign with good wishes about three hours before kick-off, offering messages like “Stay Strong” and “Love.” Some wore No. 3 jerseys, which is Hamlin’s number.

“When I saw it live, it was sad to see,” said Kyle Blaney, who wore a Patriots jersey. “But it’s good to see everyone coming together to support him, not just Bill’s fans.”

NFL fans around the world joined in support of Hamlin this week, including many who donated over $8 million to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation. Sunday provided an opportunity to pay tribute together in the final week of the NFL season.

The electronic signs surrounding the Highmark Stadium car park all carried the message “Love For Damar 3”. Some fans decorated their homes in Bill’s blue and red colors with various tributes to Hamlin.

Players from both teams came out on the field to warm up, wearing shirts honoring Hamlin. Many Patriots players wore black sweatshirts with “Love for Damar” written on the front. Several Bills players wore T-shirts with Hamlin’s likeness on the front and back.

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

Jeffrey T Barnes/AP

The NFL will pay tribute to the player during all Week 18 games beginning Saturday, including a pregame moment of support and painting Hamlin’s No. 3 at the 30-yard line. The Bills will also sport “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 great that Damar is doing well,” said David Coning outside the Bengals’ Paycor Stadium. “We’ve seen pictures of him. he has a smile He sent a text message. I think that’s a great relief for everyone. Hopefully we can get back to normal.”

In the huge parking lots surrounding Bills Stadium, many fans wore shirts and jerseys that Hamlin made himself in honor of him.

Sue Sonner wore the No. 3 jersey worn by former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel in which her husband covered the player’s name with Hamlin.

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

β€œWe could see the rush and the trauma and the panic and all that. Such a very grim, very grim environment,” she said. “Now that he’s making progress and we think he’ll be fine, we’re now looking forward to playing football again. And hopefully he’s on the road to recovery.”

Ken Johnson, nicknamed “Pinto Ron” and one of the Bills’ most famous tailgaters, had nothing special planned for Sunday but said he expected many in attendance to spontaneously honor Hamlin.

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

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

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