Hamlin in their hearts, NFL pays tribute No. 3 | lifestyle

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Damar Hamlin’s old high school teammate clutched the ball he had just caught and ran toward the 30-yard line, he carefully laid down the pigskin at the top of the “3” marked in red, he raised his hands above his head and formed them into a heart shape.

“I’m glad I got a chance to go out there and play and honor him the way I did,” said Hamlin’s friend, Colts safety Rodney Thomas II.

Thomas’ gesture may have been the most touching moment, but it was far from the only shout-out to the Bills safety in the NFL’s Sunday outpouring of love for a hitter whose impact is being felt across the country.

Hamlin’s number — the number “3” — was displayed everywhere throughout the league, emblazoned on the 30-yard lines on the fields, worn on special patches on Bills’ uniforms and on jackets and sweatshirts and even on the red hearts hanging from the tents on the back door in front of the Bills home stadium.

Naturally, the greatest volume of tributes flowed from the Orchard Park parking lot in New York, where Buffalo’s 35-23 victory over New England was punctuated by Nyheim Hines’ 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening play. .

“OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” Hamlin tweeted after the quick score.

The safety, whose recovery from his on-field collapse Monday night in Cincinnati outpaced every NFL story line, also shared a photo as he makes a heart with his hands from the hospital bed shortly before kick-off with the text “GAMETIME!!! @BuffaloBills.”

Earlier, on the lot outside Highmark Stadium, Ryan Magnuson stood in front of a 4-by-10-foot canvas postcard he placed at the base of the Bills Stadium entrance for fans to sign. Message on the card: “If you get a chance to show love today, do it. It won’t cost you anything” — repeat a Hamlin tweeted back in 2021.

“It was very positive. I’ve seen Bills fans, I’ve seen Patriots fans, and people in other NFL jerseys. I think it’s bigger than a team thing at this point,” Magnuson said.

Fifteen hundred miles away and three hours later in Denver, the Chargers and Broncos each reached numbers near their respective sidelines before the first game, as both teams’ threes — Russell Wilson and Derwin James Jr. – met at the 50-yard line, shook hands and knelt in prayer.

Philly running back Miles Sanders tweeted a photo of himself wearing a “Love For Damar” sweatshirt and flashing the number “3” while FaceTiming with Hamlin from his hospital.

Not everything was warm and fuzzy.

In Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon celebrates a touchdown by imitating a coin toss — which could have happened, according to the NFL’s late contingency plan — to decide home-field advantage in a potential playoff matchup between the Bengals and Ravens.

Cincinnati’s 27-16 win over the Ravens on Sunday averted that possibility. The Ravens visit Cincy next week in the wild card round. But to say that everything is back to normal this week in the NFL or for the upcoming playoffs still feels like a bit of a stretch.

After the season, he’s sure to be decked out in the “Love For Damar” sweatshirts and more embroidered “Hamlin Strong” that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wore during Saturday’s win over the Raiders. Some may even wear shirts sold by Hamlin himself, with proceeds going to aid first responders and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has been since Monday.

It needs to be filled with reminders that the high stakes of these games are more than just the trophy awarded at the end of the Super Bowl.

He must feel a little out of place. For example, if the Chiefs and Bills advance to the AFC title game, that game will be played at a neutral site in a city to be determined.

The heart of this league beat strongest on Sunday in Buffalo.

In the vast parking lots surrounding the stadium, fans wore custom-made shirts and jerseys in Hamlin’s honor.

Sue Sonner wore former Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s No. 3 jersey; her husband creatively covered up Manuel’s name and replaced it with Hamlin’s.

“It will be very emotional. I’m bringing some tissues just in case,” said Sonner, who is from Corning, N.Y., and was also at Cincinnati Stadium last Monday.

“We saw the rush and the trauma and the panic and all of that. So a very grim, very grim environment,” she said. “Now that he’s progressing and we think he’ll be fine, we’re excited to be playing football again. And hopefully he’s on the road to recovery.”

AP sportswriters Mitch Stacy in Cincinnati, Eddie Pells in Denver, Mike Marot in Indianapolis and AP freelance writers Lori Chase and Jonah Bronstein in Orchard Park contributed.

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