ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“Honestly, I don’t know how some of us did it,” White said Sunday. “Just because some of us had a different view of what went on [with Damar Hamlin], and that is traumatizing.
“I’ve seen traumatic things in my life just growing up where I grew up at and just in the environment that I’ve been raised in, but it was always the end result of me walking up and seeing it. But there was never a time where I saw every event, everything transpire to the end. So, it’s tough, man.”
Less than a week removed from Hamlin collapsing on the field in front of his teammates, a stadium full of people and the world, the Bills went out in full uniform on a football field for the first time and played a game. For the entire organization, the emotional toll of Monday night and the week was felt in different ways.
In the record books, the game will go down as a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots that sealed the No. 2 seed in the AFC and gave the Bills a 13-win season. But that tells only the smallest portion of what was experienced.
White described the week leading up to the game as a “s— show” because of the closeness of the bond in the defensive backs’ room and the fact that he saw every element of Hamlin’s collapse Monday night.
“To him getting up, to him falling, to everything, it’s just something that I can’t unsee,” White said. “Everytime I close my eyes, it replays. I try watching TV, and every time the TV go to commercial, it’s just the only thing that comes to my mind, just the vision of that. So, it’s been a tough week. It’s been a tough week for our whole team. But it’s not about us right now. It’s about Damar and his family, man, and just what they had to go through. … And hopefully we’ll never have to go through this again.”
The Bills will now host the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round of the playoffs on Sunday. But this game for the Bills was about so much more than that.
“In my mind, it wasn’t about me, it was about playing for him,” said safety Dean Marlowe, who played in Hamlin’s place. “Everything that I can do for him to watch and just be proud that the guys on the back end are doing their job. So, at any point in time, I know I’ve got to do my job and it’s the league. So next-man-up mentality, and I go out there and play for my brothers.”
The signs of the player missing from the stadium were everywhere, from the No. 3 badges on Bills players’ jerseys to signs around the stadium dedicated to Hamlin and the Bills’ medical personnel and athletic training staff who saved his life being recognized pregame. Hamlin watched from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, tweeting his thoughts as the day went on.
For some Bills players, Nyheim Hines‘ 96-yard kickoff return touchdown on the first snap was a moment that went well beyond a single game.
“You want the truth, it was spiritual, it really was. Bone chilling. It was special,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “I can’t remember a play that touched me like that, I don’t think in my life. So, it’s probably No. 1 [football memory]. It was just spiritual. And I was going around with my teammates and saying, ‘God’s real.’ You can’t draw that one up any better.”
Hamlin tweeted, “OMFG,” in response to the score.
Hines went on to score on a second kickoff return in the second half, becoming the first Bills player to score two kick return touchdowns in a game and the 11th player in NFL history. The running back described his emotions on the first return as “electric” and said he felt like Hamlin was out there with the team.
When tight end Dawson Knox scored a touchdown in the second quarter, he promptly rolled around, popped up and threw the ball in the air. The tight end then put up three fingers, formed a heart with his hands and said, “Love ya, boy.”
Hamlin replied on Twitter, “I love you too,” including an emoji of hands forming a heart.
In the postgame locker room, Hamlin was there, or at least he was on FaceTime, breaking down the team after the game and getting the game ball, along with the athletic training staff.
“[Hamlin] said, ‘Love y’all boys, Bills on three, Bills on me. 1-2-3 Bills,'” Allen recounted.
There were a variety of other ways Hamlin was shown support throughout the game. Signs with well wishes to Hamlin and those who saved his life were shown on the video board throughout the day, and wide receiver John Brown gave the ball from his touchdown catch to assistant athletic trainer Danny Kellington, who administered CPR to Hamlin when he suffered cardiac arrest on the field Monday night.
Before the game, the Bills honored those who saved Hamlin’s life by naming all the team’s medical personnel and athletic training staff to a large round of applause and cheers. Some Bills players ran onto the field before the game with “3” and “Pray for Damar” flags. Allen threw three passing touchdowns, and the Bills had three interceptions — one each by White and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.
“I just thank Him, and it’s a coincidence how something like that happens,” nickel corner Taron Johnson said of the interceptions. “That’s all His work, but hopefully Damar’s smiling, hopefully Damar’s happy, hopefully he’s doing better. This one was definitely for D-Ham.”
Players around the league also showed their support for Hamlin, with his former Bills teammate, and current Pittsburgh Steeler, cornerback Levi Wallace saying he is going to mail the ball from his interception Sunday to Hamlin.
Right after the game, Hamlin announced on Twitter that he was selling T-shirts with the now-iconic image of his hands forming a heart and “Did We Win?” something he asked doctors upon waking up in the hospital after Monday night.
Hamlin showed another example of who he is as a teammate by texting the defensive backs around 2:31 a.m. on Saturday morning and wrote, “I’m thinking about y’all, I’m sorry that I did that to y’all.”
“For him to check on us when he’s the person that’s going through what he’s going through, man, that just shows what type of person he is for him to check on us,” White said. “I just want to hug the s— out of him. Because in the meeting room, he sit like two seats away from me and every time he come in the meeting room — ‘T. Weezy.’ I can’t wait to hear his voice and be able to touch him and just hug the s— out of him and hear that again. So, we miss you, man, and just get back to us. But it’s been, it’s been a hard week. It’s been a hard week.”