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Buffalo Bills players can't wait to 'love' Hamlin after health update

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Bills safety Damar Hamlin had his breathing tube removed overnight and was able to speak with his family, doctors and teammates, the Buffalo Bills said Friday morning.

Hamlin was video chatting Friday with teammates and coaches as they prepared for a Sunday game against the New England Patriots. At a news conference with reporters, Bills coach Sean McDermott said he surprised the team with a “treat,” and players gave Hamlin a standing ovation when they saw him on screen.

Later, Hamlin flexed his arm muscles, made a heart gesture with his hands, raised his thumb and said, “I love you boys,” McDermott said.

“It was a really cool exchange for a few seconds there,” said McDermott.

“He continues to make remarkable progress in his recovery,” he said. the team said in a tweetadding that his neurological function was intact.

Hamlin’s doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Thursday that while Hamlin has shown progress, it is still too early to determine whether he will be able to make a full recovery.

McDermott previously told reporters how Mario Hamlin, father of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, addressed the team in a video conference call from Cincinnati on Wednesday. Mario Hamlin and his wife, Nina, were in a hospital with their son, but they wanted to leave a message for the team.

Damar, said Mário, would like the team to play.

Both McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen said Thursday afternoon that message — combined with Damar Hamlin’s improving condition as he continues to be treated after suffering a cardiac arrest in Monday’s game — was the impetus the Bills needed to encourage them to focus on their jobs even as they continue to pray and worry about their teammate and friend.

Hamlin, 24, collapsed after making what appeared to be a routine tackle on Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins during a game broadcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

What followed was a harrowing 10 minutes as medical professionals tended to him on the field and administered CPR, while Bills players knelt in a circle around him. Backstage, players cried and hugged. Broadcasters, the shock also evident in their voices, tried to narrate the scene when Hamlin was eventually loaded into an ambulance and rushed to a hospital.

The game was suspended, after McDermott consulted with this team, the officials and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. The league announced on Thursday night that the game would not be completed.

During the video call on Wednesday, McDermott said Mario Hamlin’s message encouraged the Bills.

“The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they set for themselves, which Damar would like to see that way,” said McDermott. “And that includes our game against New England this week.”

Allen and McDermott answered media questions for about 40 minutes, describing the terrifying scene and their efforts this week to process their emotions and prepare for a Sunday football game at home against the New England Patriots that even the coach and the players agreed seemed trivial compared to what happened to Hamlin.

“The scene just replays in your head,” Allen said. “It’s hard to describe how I felt, how my teammates felt at the time.”

But upon learning that Hamlin was texting and holding hands with loved ones just three days after nearly losing his life on the pitch, Allen said: “There’s nothing you could have said to us to make our day worse after that.”

Allen said that he and his teammates were looking forward to being reunited with Hamlin so they could “love” him.

McDermott, who has made players’ mental well-being a priority in his coaching style, said after the Bills returned from Cincinnati that there were impromptu team meetings and counselors available for players and staff.

“Mental health is real,” McDermott said. “The health and well-being of his team and his players is the #1 job of a coach in this situation.”

Allen said he invited all of his teammates to his house this week, and those who joined him prayed and spent time together to decompress and talk about Hamlin.

Bills cornerback Dane Jackson, who also played with Hamlin at the University of Pittsburgh, said the two men share a special bond. Before each game, Jackson said, he and Hamlin would usually meet backstage, where they would hug and tell each other, “I love you.”

It was a tradition Jackson thought about often after suffering a frightening neck injury during Week 2 of this season. As he was being loaded into an ambulance, one voice stood out among all of his teammates, he said. It was from Hamlin.

“He said, ‘I love you, D-Jack,’” Jackson said. He hopes to reunite with his friend, so he can deliver the same message.

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