A lot of significance and symbolism lies within the number three, and the Buffalo Bills organization and everybody rooting for safety Damar Hamlin felt that heavily on Thursday morning.
Just three days after Hamlin collapsed on the field due to cardiac arrest during the Bills-Bengals game, physicians caring for Hamlin announced that he has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday, and he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact.
In an emotional press conference Thursday evening featuring quarterback Josh Allen and head coach Sean McDermott, followed by center Mitch Morse and cornerback Dane Jackson, the Bills described what the past 72 hours have been like as their hearts and minds have been focused on Hamlin.
At times, it was difficult for Hamlin's teammates to articulate what they were feeling when they saw him down on the field and even how they're processing the situation now. There were moments of tears reflecting on the scary scene in Cincinnati, but the joy of hearing Hamlin had awoke lifted the entire organization.
"We heard that news this morning and there's nothing that could have been told to us to bring our day down," Allen said while sitting next to McDermott. "We're extremely happy for him and his family. We just want to love up on him. The next chance we get, I don't know when it's going to be, hopefully if we get to see him anytime soon. It's going to be awesome."
The team got word of Thursday's positive update via Damar's father, Mario Hamlin. He spoke with the team through a video call and provided words of encouragement to the team as they start to prepare for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots while also keeping Hamlin at the forefront of their minds.
"As a player, as that being our brother and him being so close, you're just wondering is he going to be all right in the end," Dane Jackson said. "So once we got updates and once we got feedback, it just started to make us feel a little better."
"I had the chance actually to talk to (Mario) Monday night," Allen said. "And only thing he said was: "My son's going to be all right."
One of Mario's encouragements that stood out most to the team was that he wanted them to get back to the mentality of preparing for their game this week.
"Really his message was the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way," McDermott shared. "And so that includes our game against New England this week. And I think that has helped.
Added Allen: "The things that he kind of told us and really he didn't tell us, he demanded us. And you can't not honor his request to go out there and charge forward. And that to the best of our abilities."
The NFL confirmed that Bills-Patriots will go on as scheduled, as will the rest of the Week 18 slate. Players expect Sunday's regular season home finale to be a special environment in front of Bills Mafia.
"We want to go out there and play for 3, and he'll be a huge driving force and the emotion and the love of the game that we play with and for each other," Allen added.
However, the thought of taking the field on Sunday might not come easy to some players as their lives may be forever changed after witnessing and feeling the emotions they did on Monday night. But Allen shared that the best way that they can continue to move forward, with the help of the daily updates on Hamlin, is to lean on one another.
"We've had some very open and honest and deep talks, some unbelievable — it sounds weird, but — embraces as men just hugging somebody and actually leaning into them," Allen said. "There's been a lot of that going around, and you need every bit of it. You really do. And I think the fact that we just keep hearing good news about Damar, it just keeps pushing us forward."
The bond in the Bills locker room is one like no other, and Jackson said it gives this team an advantage to be there for each other during tough times like this. Jackson felt that bond from everybody around him when he saw Hamlin, who's like a brother to him, surrounded by medical staff.
"He (WR Stefon Diggs) just made sure he was by my side because he knew how significant our relationship is," Jackson recalled. "He just made sure he kept reaching out to me, checking up on me, as well as everyone else on the team did as well. A lot of people know our history and our background. A lot of guys were coming up to me and just making sure I was good, just checking up on me."
And as someone who had to be taken off the field in an ambulance earlier in the season after a scary collision, Jackson has experienced the support of his teammates firsthand. The entirety of his team was surrounding him, but Jackson vividly remembers Hamlin standing right there next to him and hovering over him until the doors of the ambulance closed.
"I just remember as they were putting me into the ambulance, him (Hamlin) saying, 'I love you, D-Jack,'" Jackson said. "I just remember that distinct voice. The whole team was saying it, but I just remember that distinct voice in my head, and that replayed with me on the whole way to the hospital … So that goes to show you the type of bond me and him have and how we're always there for each other."
Even though Jackson can't physically be alongside Hamlin at the moment, he continues to send his love and support to one of his best friends and the entire Hamlin family from Buffalo to Cincinnati.
Jackson's message to Hamlin: "I'mma always be here. No matter what, no matter the situation may be — if it's good, if it's bad, or if it's in the middle, I'mma always be right here and doing everything that I can to help … No matter what, I'm gonna always be here. I'm gonna be a brother to him, I'm gonna be a friend to him, a friend to his parents, or just anything that they need from me. I'm here for them for sure, 100%."