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'I love the game' | Why Bills safety Damar Hamlin is determined to make a comeback to the NFL

Buffalo Bills begin voluntary off-season workouts, April 17, 2023 at One Bills Drive.
Buffalo Bills begin voluntary off-season workouts, April 17, 2023 at One Bills Drive.

"This event was life changing, but it's not the end of my story. So I'm here to announce that I plan on making a comeback to the NFL."

Those were the words of Damar Hamlin during a powerful but uplifting press conference at One Bills Drive on Tuesday afternoon as the Bills safety made it known he is fully committed to playing football again. 

Three months after his on-field cardiac arrest on Jan. 2, Hamlin was "fully cleared" by doctors this past weekend to continue his pursuit of returning to the field. The latest step in that long journey included returning to Buffalo to participate in the team's offseason workout program which began Monday morning. 

"He is fully cleared," Bills GM Brandon Beane said. "He's in a great headspace to make his return."

"It’s not the end of my story. So I’m here to announce that I plan on making a comeback to the NFL." Damar Hamlin

Speaking to local media members in Buffalo for the first time since his cardiac event, Hamlin detailed the heart diagnosis that caused him to collapse, saying that doctors have officially ruled it as Commotio Cordis.

The American Heart Association describes Commotio Cordis as a 'rare consequence of blunt force trauma to the heart that happens at exactly the wrong time in the heart rhythm, causing the heart to stop beating effectively.'

"They almost lost me. Like I died on national TV in front of the whole world, you know what I mean?," Hamlin said.

Hamlin needed life-saving measures from both the Bills on-field training staff the night of his cardiac arrest and the doctors at the University of Cincinnati hospital in the trauma center where he'd spend the next several days healing.

But it was in those early days of waking up in the hospital that Hamlin knew he wasn't finished making an impact on or off the football field.

"Sitting in the hospital bed, I think maybe that Saturday there were some games on. This is around the time where I'm going through a lot in my head, just trying to process everything that was going on. Just watching teams play, watching other safeties, that's where I saw and felt my love for the game," Hamlin said.

"That's where I was just like 'I don't want to be done yet'."

“My heart is still in the game. I love the game." Damar Hamlin

Wheels were put into motion for Hamlin's potential return early in the offseason as Beane shared during the NFL Combine that the Bills safety was in the evaluation process with doctors for how soon he could return to football activities. A few weeks later at the onset of free agency, Beane again said things were "trending in the right direction" for Hamlin. Tuesday's news provided the most clarity on Hamlin's status.

"(Damar) saw a couple of specialists here in Buffalo and since then he's seen three additional specialists, most recently on Friday. And, they're all in agreement," Beane said. "He is cleared to resume full activities just like anyone else who was coming back from an injury."

As the sun rose early Monday morning, Hamlin — along with many of his teammates — arrived at the team facility to begin the offseason workout program. While Hamlin did visit with the team prior to their playoff games in January, Monday marked the first time since his injury that he's been in lockstep with them in workouts.

Video released by the Bills on social media channels showed an upbeat Hamlin working out with the defensive back group this week, smiling while dressed in a blue Bills workout shirt.  

"Physically, I'm pretty much building this thing up from zero to 100, you know, but that's the favorite part about the game. I love the process. I love starting from nothing and building it up to something," he said.

Even before Hamlin fulfilled his dream of making it to the NFL, he has always felt the calling of trying to impact as many lives as possible — specifically young kids. Damar partnered with the American Heart Association in March to introduce the Access to AEDs Act which would increase the training and availability of AEDs (automated external defibrillator) on school campuses.

Then there's his Chasing M’s Foundation which has raised over $9 million since January. The proceeds support toy drives, back-to-school drives, kids camps, and more. It's only the beginning of what Hamlin hopes to accomplish in the community.

"It's really been wonderful to see the world, you know, see the good that I was trying to do, even before the notoriety. For that to be acknowledged, it was just a wonderful feeling. Now, with my foundation through the roof, I plan to save a generation, and generations to come," he said.

Bills players spoke extensively in the immediate aftermath of Hamlin's incident on how much the event changed them, how grateful they are to know Hamlin is OK and how his presence has helped them emotionally. 

But to see him in continued good health months later — and with the potential to suit up for a game in the 2023 season — it's a different feeling inside the Bills facility this week.

"Fun to be around, beautiful soul," Bills safety Micah Hyde said Tuesday. "He's a younger guy, younger than me. But I look up to him, especially how he has bounced back and faced adversity throughout the last couple months. So, it's just special to have him in the building."

Added Sean McDermott: "It's something that we'll always remember and just thankful that he's in the spot that he's in today."

It's important to note that Tuesday's news of his clearance to resume football activities is just one more step of many for Hamlin, but he insists he's going to keep fighting at every part of this next journey. He is determined to play football again, whenever that may be.

"My heart is still in the game. I love the game. It's something I want to prove to myself and not nobody else," he said. "I want to show people that fear is a choice and that you can keep going and something without having the answers and without knowing what's at the end of the tunnel."

Check out the best photos of Damar Hamlin, Josh Allen and the rest of the Bills from the team's first offseason workouts in preparation for the 2023 season.

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