Pittsburgh representation will go beyond those in the black and gold when the Steelers come to town this Sunday.
Bills S Damar Hamlin and CB Dane Jackson both grew up in suburbs just outside of Pittsburgh and then went on to play football together at the University of Pittsburgh. While there was a chance that would be the last time the two would play together, the Bills had another idea in mind when they drafted Jackson in 2020 and Hamlin the following year.
"Damar's like my little brother and he's been ever since he was younger," Jackson said. "We grew up on the same side of town, then we went to the same college, and now we're playing on the same team in the Pro League. You can't really ask for a better step to success than that and we treat it as such when we remind each other how blessed we are."
With Hamlin in his second season in Buffalo and Jackson in his third, head coach Sean McDermott has seen both grow as players and people. McDermott shared that from a familiarity standpoint, having a mentor in the room in Jackson has helped Hamlin develop on and off the field.
"I think that you watch those two, they have a good rapport and they're both extremely tough young men," McDermott said. "And they come from a very good college program there at Pitt."
The relationship between Hamlin and Jackson reminds safety Jordan Poyer of his relationship with fellow safety Micah Hyde. After being with the 'Pitt boys' in the Bills locker room for two seasons now, Poyer acknowledged how their camaraderie has been impactful on the field.
"It's extremely cool to play alongside somebody that you played with for a long time," Poyer said. "Their friendship is awesome and obviously, two Pitt boys. You never see one without the other. They're two great players for us and they're going to continue to be for a long time."
As the two prepare to face their hometown team this weekend, they lean on their familiarity with old teammate and the Steelers' starting QB this weekend, Kenny Pickett, to do so. Hamlin and Jackson have faced Pickett in practice during their time at Pitt, but this Sunday will be the first time the quarterback will be Hamlin and Jackson's opponent.
"I expect him to bring the same thing that he's been doing his whole career since he first started playing this position," Jackson said. "I expect him to play his best game and give us all he's got, but I'm looking to do the same."
But DE Greg Rousseau, who played football at the University of Miami, does have experience going up against Pickett in a game setting. After sacking the Pitt QB three times in his college career, Rousseau is excited to go up against him this time in an NFL game.
"He's a dog, he's a competitor, and he's not going to quit," Rousseau said.
While potentially playing against each other one day was realistic, it wasn't really talked about amongst the three Panthers when they were still on the same sideline at Pitt. The focus at the time was on winning games with the hopes of ultimately making it to the NFL - something all three accomplished.
"That was a thought far along and down the line that you can't even think right now because you needed to be focused on what you have to focus on," Hamlin said. "But if we both handled our business, it's something that could've happened and here we are."
Since starting their respective NFL careers in different cities, Hamlin and Jackson still have a close relationship with Pickett and are looking forward to seeing him on the field at Highmark Stadium this Sunday.
"We still boys. Still text here and there, but we got our own separate lives," Jackson said. "He's doing his thing with the Steelers and I'm doing my thing here."
"We stay in each other's lanes, but when we cross paths, it's all love no matter what," Hamlin added.